I don't want to be labeled anything.
-- Robert Mapplethorpe
Despite his elaborate pompadour and face so attractive as to be almost pretty, the artist's stare in this self-portrait is forceful and direct.
Mapplethorpe's sophisticated use of lighting gives the outlines of his mouth, nostrils, and earlobes a refined, even sculptural quality. The same elements of glamour and striking simplicity for which he is known in his celebrity and fashion portraiture are visible here, including a tightly cropped composition and uncluttered background that further dramatize the face. Mapplethorpe drew on his early commercial work for magazines, including Vogue. This aspect of his career followed the examples of other noted photographers such as Edward Steichen, Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, and Herb Ritts.
His work encompassed portraits, nudes, and still lifes, often with strong erotic, homosexual, and sadomasochistic themes. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, his work provoked an American culture war over whether public funds should support art some deemed blasphemous and obscene.