Robert Mapplethorpe Archive
Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989) was an American photographer who worked primarily from the mid-sixties until his death, due to AIDS related complications. Mapplethorpe was known for his large black and white images with male nudes serving and his prominent subject. During Mapplethorpe’s lifetime his photography was considered to be very controversial and even after his death his work continued to spark controversy for its erotic nature. Before Mapplethorpe passed away in 1989 he also set up the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, with the hope that the money generated by his estate would continue to support his creative vision. The Mapplethorpe Foundation has since championed for AIDS Research.
The Mapplethorpe Foundation donated the Robert Mapplethorpe Archives to the Getty Research Institute in 2011. The bulk of the materials date from about 1975 until the photographer’s death in 1989. There are over 2,000 works of art in the collection as well as personal papers, which includes personal correspondence and other material that is significant to both Mapplethorpe’s personal life and art.
Most of the archival material resides at the Getty Research Institute while the art is available to be viewed in special exhibitions.
What makes the Foundation’s collaboration with the Getty Research Institute so special is the goal of the institute to digitize much of the collection. This includes much of the artwork and other materials that were critical in Mapplethorpe’s artistic process.
When the finding aid is viewed online there is a link to the digital collection. The digital archive splits into two separate digital collections; one of Mapplethorpe’s artwork and one of other artwork by others. The collection is still in the process of being fully digitized but the Getty Research Institute has made what is digitized available online while the project continues.
Each object has extensive metadata, which makes identifying and citing objects easy for researchers. Aside from the common identifying information for art such as the artist, title and year there are accession numbers (which are common for most archives), and information about reproductions and who holds the rights to the original and digital versions of the works. The site also provides options for researchers to email the citation or save it on their personal computers.
This type of access to the materials is a part of a growing trend in archives to provide the highest level of access to researchers without having to step into a physical location. These innovative types of services make it easier for all parties involved. Researchers are able to do “pre-research,” which allows them to confirm that a repository has the information they are looking for and it give the archivist or librarian the ability to better serve their patrons who will have more information prior to contacting the institution.