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What was your first response?

Total attraction/repulsion. Completely interesting. They brought up a lot of questions for me personally. Confusing and exciting, just like they still are. You don’t want to look at them, you don’t want to enjoy them, and yet he did them so beautifully. It was so forbidden.

Lynn Davis, Moody#31, 1978
Courtesy of Lynn Davis and Edwynn Houk Gallery, NY
©Lynn Davis, New York, All Rights Reserved

I was thinking about Robert’s relationship to the classical tradition and the exhibition Germano Celant curated at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin. There’s a sense in both of your work that uses but also breaks against tradition. Robert embeds blatant subject matter in classical form while your work, though it’s less detectable, lets the viewer feel a rift on a physical level.

That’s nice of you to say. It’s true of both of us. We shared similar interests. We had a very intense communication about photographs from the day I walked into his studio. We met in those days once a month to look at each other’s work.

He’d come here to see you or would you go to his place?

This place was uptown; we were hanging out differently than you would here. I preferred downtown. You could carry the pictures with you. We’d look at this and that, photographing each other from time to time. We went out for a meal, usually alone, I didn’t know many of his friends nor he mine. It was a very one on one relationship. I did meet [Robert’s lover, the curator and photography collector] Sam Wagstaff as well as Patti Smith, but really, it was Robert and I. We had a good time. He would tell me the stories of those pictures, which amazed me.

Lynn Davis, Dancer#36, 1979
Courtesy of Lynn Davis and Edwynn Houk Gallery, NY
©Lynn Davis, New York, All Rights Reserved

What were some of the most outrageous stories?

I’d have to talk about them picture by picture in context. I don’t like when it’s taken out of context. It was about what he was going through day by day, exploring and testing his own sexuality, experimenting and looking. A lot of these things he didn’t come up with – these were things being done at the time. He was out looking, doing things at night.

The scene in New York then was about cruising .

It was an exploration that came to an end at a certain point in his life. Then AIDS came and the whole face of the landscape we knew changed. When he got sick, our relationship deepened and matured as friends. AIDS ages you ten years for every year. He was still the adorable, naughty Robert, but he was maturing, making other kinds of decisions, even though he related always in this very fun, light way.

Lynn Davis, Statues, 2001
Courtesy of Lynn Davis and Edwynn Houk Gallery, NY
©Lynn Davis, New York, All Rights Reserved
Lynn Davis, Mosque, Mali (2001)
Courtesy of Lynn Davis and Edwynn Houk Gallery, NY

©Lynn Davis, New York, All Rights Reserved

Was he conscious of that split?

Not so much. Robert was not an intellectual. He liked to have a good time, he wanted things. The great success he had when he was sick kept him going enormously. He was always interested in success and money. He enjoyed it. Other people who were sick didn’t have shows, articles, and money coming in.

How did your joint show, “Trade Off”, done at ICP in New York in 1979, come about?

I met Bill Ewing, who was running a program for young people with Cornell Capa at the ICP. Bill saw my work and asked if I wanted to do a show of nudes. I said, “Oh, I’ll do it with my friends. I’d like to do it with Peter Hujar and Robert.” They were my two closest friends. We were working on similar ideas in very different ways — the square and nudes. Peter’s pictures were real sex. Robert was doing beautiful things and mine were different than theirs, but Peter didn’t want anything to do with the show.


Lynn Davis, Black Back, New york City, 1978
Courtesy of Lynn Davis and Edwynn Houk Gallery, NY
©Lynn Davis, New York, All Rights Reserved

He didn’t want comparisons, so he backed out. Of course, Robert said: “Absolutely.” Robert would do anything. We decided that instead of doing pictures we both had, we would shoot the same people. It was hilarious. We weren’t really all that trained in lighting, we were picking up things as we went along. I remember he didn’t have film in his camera a couple of times or the lights would fall. Every day was a little adventure and it was very competitive, but a lot of fun.

Robert Mapplethorpe, Ajitto, 1981
©Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation

Was it Robert’s idea that you shoot the same things?

It was both of ours. I had very good models and he had models, so we said “why don’t we trade off,” and that became the show.

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