Nathan AshtonNathan Ashton

Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures

Foley Artist and Foley Editor

Using two retrospectives at LA’s Getty and LACMA museums as a backdrop, this definitive portrait profiles the controversial artist Robert Mapplethorpe, whose photographs pushed social boundaries with their frank depictions of nudity, sexuality and fetishism — and ignited a culture war that rages to this day. With complete and unprecedented access to The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, the documentary draws upon archival materials and features never-before-seen photographs and footage. The film follows Mapplethorpe’s early beginnings as a young artist in New York City through his meteoric rise in the art world to his untimely death of aids in 1989, to weak to lift his camera.

Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures is a revealing look at an artist whose name remains a byword for something illicit, dangerous and dark.

NOTE: This documentary is not appropriate for all viewers.

My Perspective


This documentary interviewed a great many people who highly respected Mapplethorpe’s work and others who loved Robert the man. He is credited with elevating photography from a documentary exercise into an art form. Such was the intensity of his pictures that I had to pause and stare at many of them. There was one, a young Arnold Schwarzenegger, that still stands out in my mind as a work of art worthy of Michelangelo. Other images were raw. Some offended me. But the artist I think that Robert would have been happy with any of my reactions.

What is most significant to me as an artist is the undercurrent of desperation that flowed through Mapplethorpe’s story. He wanted to be loved and he needed to be recognized as an artist. He frequented the (then underground) gay bars and explored satanic imagery looking for inspiration. As time went on he felt an ever increasing compulsion to bring home a different lover almost every night. Robert’s two life partners said it was this spiral that destroyed him.

Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures left me asking a lot of very big questions. How far should we go as artists? Are there boundaries we should not cross? In life? In love? In art?


On the surface, the film needed the usual treatment: footsteps, clothing, and lots of paper (pictures) movement. But as I began working I became aware of the attitude the curators had for Mapplethorpe’s work and found myself trying to match their level of respect with detail in my sound. I also had to work alone since I couldn’t use my usual Mixer, and another one wasn’t available. So I was alone, starting and stopping the recording with an iPad, shuffling paper, manipulating an old camera, breathing depth into the story of Robert Mapplethorpe.

In 2017 Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures was nominated for an MPSE Golden Reel Award for best sound in the category of TV Documentary – Long Form! So excited for the team Paulette Victor Lifton put together the audio team for this project, and glad she invited me to be a part.

© 2016 HBO Documentary Films


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