One: Sons and Daughters, A Book Signing with Edward Mapplethorpe
Edward Mapplethorpe’s new book, One: Sons and Daughters, is a collection of baby pictures that he began producing in 1995. The black and white portraits of one-year-olds are at once anonymous and deeply revealing. Portrayed without any clothing to indicate gender, and without any names that might reveal family circumstance (each picture is simply titled with the time and date of the child’s birth), the portraits dodge the more superficial trappings of identity, allowing the one-year olds’ expressions to be the sole indicators of personality.
Though the series began as commissioned work that allowed him to finance other projects, Mapplethorpe says it would be wrong at this point not to acknowledge the photographs as a significant body of work in their own right. These are not just cutesy baby pics; there is something about his approach that allows the personhood of his subjects to be revealed. Often, Mapplethorpe says, parents will tell him years later that he captured something essential about their child’s personality, something that remains even into adulthood.
Mapplethorpe always gives his clients two images—one “nice” image that he’s sure they will like, and another “challenging” image that he prefers but knows will be more difficult for the parents to sit with. Though the parents are often unsure about the second image, Mapplethorpe says, “I enjoy it, because they’re gonna be calling me in a couple years saying, ‘You know, you were right, I love this picture.’”
There’s something about one-year-olds that Mapplethorpe continues to find captivating, even after 20 years. When asked if he’d like to do a series of children from other age categories, the artist joked that he’d entertained the idea of doing a series of two year olds, mainly because he “liked the idea of a second volume titled ‘TWO.’” But Mapplethorpe thinks his main attention will always be on one year olds, and says he’s not done with the subject: “This is and will continue to be part of my life’s work….Babies are uplifting and warm and cuddly, and if you don’t have one, think about it.”
The Strand Bookstore hosted a book signing for Edward Mapplethorpe’s One: Son’s and Daughters, on April 28, 2016. Speakers included Dr. Samantha Boardman, who authored the book's introduction, and New Yorker staff writer Susan Orlean, who wrote one of the book's essays. The book was published on April 26, 2016 by PowerHouse Books.
Thumbnail image: ©Elizabeth Mealey, Edward Mapplethorpe at Strand Bookstore, 2016
Text by Elizabeth Mealey