In Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures, most interviews start by showing an old-school camera taking a photo of the interviewee. The camera is held vertically, has one or more knobs on the top, and (I think) a mechanical arm that moves the film on the side. There is a large, optical "screen" on it. Unfortunately I could not find a clip from the documentary that shows the camera, so it really helps if you saw the film. I attempted to make a sketch from memory, which might be inaccurate, but can possibly help (apologize for poor my drawing skills):



Not having seen the film, or being able to find frames from the movie online, it's probably a Hasselblad 500 medium format camera:

Hasselblad 500 CM
Image source: Wikimedia commons, CC-BY-2.0

Mapplethorpe mostly used 2 cameras:

  • Polaroid SX-70 until 1975
  • Hasselblad 500 given to him by Sam Wagstaff, since 1975


  1. Reframing Robert Mapplethorpe, Interview with Frances Terpak, curator of photographs at the Getty Research Institute
  2. Robert Mapplethorpe Collection at the Guggenheim Museum
  3. Mapplethorpe introduction by Richard Marshall
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  • You are right, it's definitely the Hasselblad 500. I suppose it is not held vertically, but filmed from the top, and what I thought to be knobs on the top were actually parts of the objective. Thanks! – Tamás Szelei Apr 30 '16 at 17:52

I'm sure Robert used a polaroid SX70,and Hasselblad. But like most experimental photographers he did also use Mamiya and Rolleiflex twin reflex cameras. He tried these for sharp yet soft imagery. There are some pictures of him using both cameras in the British Library, London.

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