I’ve written about Robert Mapplethorpe before but in a very general way, so I wanted to take a little time and focus on one of his photographs and why I love it so much. This particular photograph is from a series Mapplethorpe did with Lisa Lyon.
Lisa Lyon is an interesting woman; she had studied fine art in college before she began bodybuilding. She entered the first IFBB Women’s World Pro Bodybuilding Championship in Los Angeles, June 16, 1979. She won the title; it was her first and last bodybuilding contest. Afterwards, she was asked to pose for Playboy, which she did, once. She also had a “workout video” in the 1980s. Her collaboration with Mapplethorpe stands out as definitive art, erotic storytelling.
Lisa Lyon appears to be the perfect model for a series on the female body which shows the strength, power, and beauty of the female form. Lyon considered her work in the realm of performance art – art of and from the body. These photographs are erotic and highly sexual, but there is also an understated elegance and artistry that frame these images.
Looking at the above photograph, I love the simplicity of the lines, the mystery of the shadows. I love how the black corset offsets pale skin, making it seem luminescent, vulnerable. The way the body is shot actually blurs gender; it could be a male or a female body. I also love how the photograph plays with femininity – the frilled lace of the corset looks so light, so gentle and female. The garter to the right is pulling and pressing taut against the skin – it seems rough, violent, not female at all – yet, that is an aspect to feminine sexuality, a part that we stereotypically do not attribute to women.
The position of the body and the adornment of it is also reminiscent of BDSM (bondage and discipline, sado-masochism). On the surface level, the photograph is simply showing an image. However, just the image brings to mind so many different connotations. If someone is open sexually, she or he would be open to the represented image. If a person had sexual preconceptions that conflicted with BDSM, she or he would be more resistant to the represented image.
It is very interesting how much we attach to our sexuality; having a limited language in which to express what it means, what it is, within, beyond, the physical body. In many ways, I feel that Mapplethorpe began to explore BDSM because he was an artist searching for truths; he wanted to explore the body and to engage in the most honest expression of sexuality.