Photog Wants Credit for Mapplethorpe in Drag

     MANHATTAN (CN) – A celebrated photographer of gay culture in the American Northeast claims in a federal complaint that he is being denied credit for photographs of fellow luminary Robert Mapplethorpe in drag.
     From Studio 54 to Provincetown and the East Village, James “Bobby” Miller’s work offers a captivating glimpse of LGBT nightlife throughout the decades.
     Back in the thick of it in 1979, Miller says he persuaded fellow photographer Robert Mapplethorpe to take photographs in drag makeup and accessories for Miller’s archives.
     It all went down on Nov. 23, 1979, in Mapplethorpe’s loft at 24 Bond Street.
     In addition to the single roll of film used, plus the concept, Miller says he provided the makeup, lighting, costume and camera operating for the shoot.
     Miller says Mapplethorpe kept hold of the film so his assistant could develop the pictures for Miller, but Miller allegedly never received the final product.
     Mapplethorpe died of AIDS in 1989, but Miller slapped the photographer’s foundation with a federal complaint Tuesday over the fate of four of the Mapplethorpe photographs.
     The foundation has allegedly represented the photographs as Mapplethorpe’s “self-portraits,” portrays them as such on its website, and has distributed them with that label to various galleries.
     Miller wants $25 million from the foundation, plus $10 million each from the Sean Kelly Gallery and Skarstedt Gallery, both of which hosted Mapplethorpe collections in the last three years.
     Michael Ward Stout, president of the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation, said Miller’s “claims are not meritorious.”
     Miller named the Solomon R. Guggeinheim Foundation and the Whitney Museum of American Art as defendants as well – they allegedly used the drag photos at issue in exhibits without Miller’s permission – but he does not seek damages from either institution.
     The complaint included copies of the four drag photos as exhibits. One catches “Mapplethorpe from mid-torso up, bare-chested in feminine makeup and hairstyle.” Mapplethorpe dons in a fur collar in the next three, two of which show his profile.
     Mapplethorpe used Miller as the subject of his 1979 photograph “Bobby and Larry Kissing.” Miller’s lawsuit mentions that Larry Desmedt, the Larry of that photograph, had dinner with Miller and Mapplethorpe the night of the drag photo shoot.
     Patti Smith wrote about her life with Mapplethorpe in her 2010 best-selling memoir “Just Kids.”
     Now a resident of Provincetown, Massachusetts, Miller is represented in his lawsuit by Bronx attorney Edward Westfield.

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