Mapplethorpe-inspired portraiture

“The guiding principle of ARTIST ROOMS is the concept of individual rooms devoted to particular artists. The collection of over 725 works includes major groups of work by seminal artists…

The aim of the collection is to create a new national resource of contemporary art that will be shared with museums and galleries throughout the UK so as to inspire new audiences, especially of young people.”Image

I recently did a workshop for West Lothian Council for their Robert Mapplethorpe exhibition at Linlithgow Burgh Halls. In 2008 , art collector Anthony d’Offay gifted his art collection to the nation and it is managed in partnership between National Galleries of Scotland and Tate.

My brief was to lead a tour of the exhibition and a workshop in self-portraiture which took as it’s inspiration from two specific self-portraits of Mapplethorpe; one mid-career and one towards the end of his life respectively.

For the gallery tour, I spoke to the young people about symbolism in art; specifically photography, the playfulness of Mapplethorpe’s early self-portraits compared to his last one, and we looked at how the search for perfection in the human form was a major influence on his work. We skirted around his life as an ‘out’ gay man living in New York in the 1970’s and 80’s, his Catholicism and his death from an AIDS related illness- these topics needed to be addressed because of his self-portraiture, and to give the young people attending a sense of the historical implications of his life- of him living in a different time from now.

The participants were all from James Young High School in Livingston and are studying art in 4th year. They were rather quiet and reserved during the tour which can at times be a bit unnerving but during their workshop they came in to their own, expressing their personalities, having fun, enjoying being photographed, expressing themselves in a safe and creative environment. The young people were given the brief to take two self-portraits showing their outward personalities and two showing their inner selves. I set up a black background and a white wall sufficed for the other surface. They chose which they wanted to be photographed against and worked in small groups to achieve their portraits. I set up two DSLRs as I did not want the workshops to be about the technical aspects of photography it had to be about expression and, in such a short time frame it was easier to set up the cameras for them. However they were responsible for shooting each other. All the images were shot using one reflector and natural light which came flooding in through the windows of the beautiful top floor of the Burgh Halls.

I cannot stress the importance of gallery visits, showing and discussing artworks, themes in art, stories behind the artworks and the artists themselves.

I have managed to get several model-release forms from parents to share their portraits with you. I was so excited to see the images produced by the group I just had to share- put simply they are all beautiful and there is a quality of vulnerability to of them, a sense of fun, of self-expression and exploration, a chance to share with others the different facets of their personalities. The young people were all sent copies of their images on disc and a print of their black and white 4-image collage but I have chosen to show their single colour images as I think I prefer these.

With thanks to West Lothian Council, James Young High School, Linlithgow Burgh Halls and especially Nancy Douglas.

Published by lisafotos

I live in Edinburgh and graduated with a degree in Photography from napier University. I loved travelling when i was younger which helped me form a strong world-view. I specialised my career to working with predominantly children and young people to develop their creative skills and, hopefully in the process, some additional skills and knowledge

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