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Mapplethorpe: Assault With a Deadly Camera Hardcover – September 25, 1994

3.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Fritscher's brutally frank memoir of his ex-lover, confidant, and colleague, drawn from the author's personal documents, seeks to strip away the notoriety surrounding the defiant photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. As editor and writer for the gay magazine Drummer, Fritscher was the first to publish Mapplethorpe's highly charged camera shots depicting a seamy world of "leathersex," sadomasochism, taboos, and fetishes. Here, Fritscher graphically portrays the masculine subculture of the homosexual community that Mapplethorpe inhabited until his death from AIDS in 1989, at age 42. He also discusses the censorship of Mapplethorpe's work within the mainstream gay community. Interestingly, Mapplethorpe's bitterly controversial photographs, taken during the turbulent 1970s and 1980s-during the period of Watergate, Vietnam, Patti Hearst, sexual liberation, and political deceptions-have become more a documentary of our times. Recommended for popular culture collections.
Joan Levin, MLS, Chicago
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.


The then-undiscovered camera artist Mapplethorpe asked Drummer Magazine editor Fritscher to examine his portfolio, resulting in an assignment and subsequent fame. The two later became colleagues and lovers: this biography of Mapplethorpe provides a personal first-person account of his life based on a review of journals and a personal knowledge going beyond the interview stage. -- Midwest Book Review

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 306 pages
  • Publisher: Hastings House; 1st edition (September 25, 1994)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803893620
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803893627
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,228,239 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Jack Fritscher emerging from the gay past exists, both now and in the future, as a pioneer participant in gay culture and as a critic chronicling analytical witness to that history. He is the double-jointed author of literary fiction as well as of erotic fiction, including 4 novels, 5 fiction anthologies, 3 nonfiction books, and 2 produced plays. He is also the director and videographer of 170 feature videos. A Gemini, born June 20, 1939, he has balanced twin careers in literature and erotica--often recombinantly.

A gay pioneer from the 1960s, he wrote the 1968 novel, "I Am Curious (Leather)," began before Stonewall his research on "Popular Witchcraft," befriended the legendary and elderly gay author Sam Steward (Phil Andros) in 1969, and became the founding San Francisco editor shaping the legendary "Drummer" magazine (1975) which published his features, fiction, and photographs for 25 years in more than 62 issues. Those writings and photographs, annotated with historical commentary by the author, are available free online at this site.

In 1953 at age 14, he came out into the closeted gay world by writing a "gladiator novel" while attending the Vatican's ultra-exclusive Catholic seminary, the Pontifical College Josephinum, where the bullies were not the jocks but the opera-and-liturgy queens. His short fiction was first published in 1958 in the Catholic press.

Also adolescents at this time, his American gay peers were John Rechy; William Carney; Rita Mae Brown; and Dorothy Allison; as well as Andrew Holleran, Felice Picano, and Edmund White who founded their Violet Quill in late 1980.

These mid-century careers made possible the next generation: the fin de siecle writers who appeared after HIV in 1982. They rose during the late-80s invention of history's first viable small lesbigay book publishers whose anthologies took the place of the once-flourishing gay magazines which by the millennium had collapsed because of internet competition.

As a diverse wild card among his 20th-century contemporaries, Fritscher is the only Catholic writer, and the only actual holder of an earned PhD in literature. In addition, he is the only writer who also composes and creates as a photographer and videographer. In 1966, he wrote the world's first PhD dissertation on Tennessee Williams titled "Love and Death in Tennessee Williams: His Philosophy and Theology." Themes and rituals of Catholicism thread through his fiction and nonfiction from the incarnational "Some Dance to Remember" to the passion and death of "Mapplethorpe: Assault with a Deadly Camera." His formal training in philosophy, theology, literature, and criticism is the architecture of his sweeping historical work on witchcraft, the drama of Tennessee Williams, the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe, and the popular culture of homosexuality. His photography is a succession of heroic and suffering images from the "Roman Martyrology of the Saints."

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
There is much reason to be shocked by the author's candor on the pages of this memoir, and that candor is index of how very true is the truth in this highly personal, highly polemical book. Mapplethorpe's impenetrable character opens up in the author's quite original thesis that Mapplethorpe was shocking more in his images of death than in his images of sex. Death in cut flowers. Death in imagery of guns, knives, etc. all the way to Mapplethorpe's own dying face. Book's thesis, despising art-world politics as much as the politically-correct gay world, connects Mapplethorpe's image manipulation to psychologically scarring and self-reflective Catholicism shared by both the photographer and the writer. Author writes scenes so formally detailed they read like film sequences. The marketing and lies of American culture are the real pornography exposed in this memoir. Even writing about Mapplethorpe, as Pultizer Prize winner Michael Cunningham found in Elle magazine, brings upon the writer and the book some of the opprobrium Mapplethorpe haters cannot level at the dead photographer, who is to this day hated as much by the fundamentalist right as the Marxist left, to say nothing of legions of gay photographers who unlike Mapplethorpe could not escape gay genre photography. This book's psyche is so raw the author must have suffered an agony in confessing his own emotional connection to a friend he repeatedly states he wishes to remember as a person and not a gifted technician or controversial symbol. Certainly, the author, as journalist, succeeded in eliciting poignant feelings, comments, memories, and grief from the blind boy in New Orleans, from painter George Dureau, from photographer Joel Peter Witkin. Book is personal, intense, and raw. The passing of time makes its historical "take" of the 1970's quite interesting.
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Format: Hardcover
Jack Fritscher writes this memoir on Mapplethorpe's life, Fritscher's own gay coming out and the crossing of paths with Mapplethorpe in a shortlived bi coastal love affair. There is an intersting description of life in New York in the 70s, 80s and 90s in the art scene, gay scene, AIDS, the controversial Mapplethorpian art and attacks to it. The life of a genius of our times is reviewed in a dynamic, personal tell of much in the style of Fritscher. It is an intersting insight on the artist, the man and the art scene of such time, both in photography, painting and literature.
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By A Customer on May 4, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I knew Bob Mapplethorpe, and I remember the 70's scene, and if Bob had lived to see all this book of which he'd read a part, he'd have reviewed it with his immortal line, "If you don't like this book, you ain't as avant garde as you think."
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Format: Hardcover
This memoir has haunted me since I first read it. I'm no longer shocked, just haunted by the humanness of Mapplethorpe. A well written reminiscence about life in the fast lane and art that draws my emotions and intellect like recent movies on Jackson Pollock and Basquiat as well as Arenas in "Before Night Falls", and a bit like the film "Total Eclipse" about Rimbaud and Verlaine with Leonardo di Caprio. The Catholicism of both Mapplethorpe and the author Fritscher plays a fascinating role in the photographer's photo imagery and the author's desire to confess the inside curve of the fast lane of their life together. Photographer George Dureau is one of the strongest characters in the book along with the mystical photographer, Joel-Peter Witkin. Wild.
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Format: Hardcover
I found this book extremely disappointing and agree with other reviewers that the author seemed more interested in aggrandizing himself through association with Mapplethorpe. Fritscher also seems intent on producing this biography to prove that Mapplethorpe selected him, rather than Patricia Morrisroe, as biographer. The writing is annoying, frequently repetitive, and skips all over the place chronologically. The book comes across more as a collection of magazine/newspapers articles rather than a coherent whole.
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Format: Hardcover
Few artists have been mythologized as quickly and as completely as the late Robert Mapplethorpe. The incredible life of the controversial photographer is given new focus in the biography Mapplethorpe: Assault with a Deadly Camera by friend, confidant, and former lover Jack Fritscher. Insider knowledge of the man humanizes a complex individual who has become obscured by his art and by the scourge of censorship.

This revealing portrait by Hastings House publishers shows Mapplethorpe from his early days as a fledgling photographer. As the former editor of Drummer magazine, it was Fritscher who gave Mapplethorpe his first magazine cover. The biography traces his rise to prominence as the avant-garde photographer of the New York art scene, his sexual obsessions, his ongoing relationship with punk legend Patti Smith, his drug use, his submersion into leather culture, his love of beauty, his theories on art, and much more. Into the narrative Fritscher weaves a fair amount of artistic exploration and examination as well.

Mapplethorpe: Assault with a Deadly Camera also contains a generous number of photos and a gold mine of data about not only Robert Mapplethorpe, but about the larger scope of the gay leathersex New York scene of the late 70s and early 80s. Fritscher explores somewhat extensively the great creators of the erotic image from that period such as Rex, as well as those on the photographic cutting edge such as Joel-Peter Witkin. By exploring Mapplethorpe's influences as well as his life, Fritscher provides the reader with a wider understanding not only of the artist, but also of his world and times.
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