Former North Carolina politician Jesse Helms is a polarizing historical figure. Some see him as a idol, others see him as a joke. Many on the right, like GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz, idolize Jesse Helms. Most on the left, such, as Rachel Maddow, remember Helms for his racially insensitive actions and antics.
Jesse Helms unintentionally helped make Robert Mapplethorpe famous by targeting the artwork for its explicit sexual content. Mr. Helms did not approve of artists of this sort receiving government grant money, and urged his colleagues to "look at the pictures", (some of which contain homo-erotic imagery) so they could understand his outrage.
Co-directors Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato took Mr. Helms' advice, and now they've released a documentary about the pictures and stories behind the themes in the artwork.
The new documentary called "Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures," which premiered in Utah at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival, features interviews from the artist's models, friends and assistants, one of whom was his younger brother Edward, whose talent is arguably greater than Robert's. However, Edward's career may have been stifled due to his struggle to be known as more than simply Robert Mapplethorpe's brother.
Despite having been a collaborator on some of the most valuable and well-known works credited to Robert, as well as a practicing artist for decades, Edward is not widely renown in the fine art world. When I asked the director of a prestigious contemporary photography museum, who said she knows everything about photography, even she was unaware of Edward's work.
"It's made my career very difficult..." Mapplethorpe said.
Edward believes there's a unique taboo in the art world regarding siblings, and this has contributed to his struggle to be known for his own work.