This chapter considers the startling—and, the author argues, politically productive—juxtapositions in Robert Mapplethorpe's photographs. The analysis here focuses on how these images train their viewers not only to see the specific subject matter differently, but to see the practice of image-making—in art and life—differently. The beauty of Mapplethorpe's images reveals the desirability of the culturally unpalatable. Their composition highlights and magnifies the means by which selves are staged, stylized, constructed, performed, and perceived. An example presented in this chapter is Mapplethorpe's photograph Brian Ridley and Lyle Heeter, which could be characterized as a family portrait of a sadomasochistic couple. This characterization, however, disturbs the classificatory terms it invokes and raises questions like: Can “family,” “portrait,” and “sadomasochism” mean the same thing together as they do separately? Is it evidence that family and domesticity have always included sadomasochistic eroticism?
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