A noted photographer turns from his previous interest in abstract portraiture to immediate, evocative studies of infants in their splendid innocence.
Mapplethorpe, younger brother of Robert (and thus disguised under a pseudonym for much of his early career), writes that this project began in 1995, when he was commissioned to take a photograph of a girl who had just turned 1. “During the editorial process of selecting the image,” he writes, “I discovered something quite remarkable—the photograph wasn’t a baby picture at all, but rather a revealing portrait of a person who happened to have just turned one.” That Renaissance understanding of the baby as a miniature adult shines through these images, distilled from a body comprising 100-odd subjects. Mapplethorpe ponders how it is that images can reveal aspects of personality of “the formed person” who looks back at the viewer, themes picked up by the contributing writers. Andrew Solomon, for instance, notes, “the children in Edward Mapplethorpe’s photographs are fully realized people caught just before language upstages the light in their eyes, their pouting mouths, their brows raised in dismay at an alien world.” Not all express dismay: some express wonder, curiosity, and even joy. If some cry or look a little wary, others have beatific (and sometimes goofy) smiles. Francine Prose gets it just right: “At the tender age of one, they have already figured out how much or how little they want to reveal in the intense and complicated faces that look out at us.” Susan Orlean delivers a fine and funny piece about a not-so-successful effort at babysitting that evokes the same prospect of intensity: “To me, though, unfamiliar with the infant disposition, she seemed like a tiny human bomb, silently ticking, waiting to be set off by something invisible.” Ultimately, readers are left to admire Mapplethorpe’s telling, beautifully printed images in peace. A bonus: a poem by Patti Smith.
A wonderful portfolio of little monsters—or little angels, as you prefer.