“Why have I never appreciated the art of photography before?” This question echoed in my mind recently, when I visited an exhibition of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography. Another question I asked myself was, “Why had I not heard of Robert Mapplethorpe till now?”.

Which cultural rock have I been hiding under?

My cultural baptism into the world of photography started in 2023 when I bought the book, ‘Just Kids’, written by the pioneering punk rock artist Patti Smith. It’s an autobiography of her life with Robert Mapplethorpe up till the time he died of AIDS in 1989. To say that it’s a moving written account of two people who reveled in creating visual artistry is an understatement.

It’s quite rare to view Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs outside of the US so I was intensely lucky to catch the exhibition (ends on 27 January 2024). My visit resulted in a triggering of a profound reflection of how captivating the form of visual expression is. In a world dominated by social media and traditional media images, it’s easy to overlook the depth and beauty inherent in photography.

It’s easy to take the ordinary – flowers and objects – for granted. The mundane often escapes our notice, and it was no different for me. Everyday scenes, ordinary moments – they seem inconsequential. While I stop to admire a beautiful flower growing in the garden or a, for example, a beautiful vase in a shop I hadn’t transferred this curiosity into photographic form.

Walking around the exhibition, the lens became a magical tool, transforming the mundane into the extraordinary. A photograph of a hand held layers of emotion and stories waiting to be discovered.

I discovered a language of emotions. Photography is not just about capturing images; it’s a language of emotions. The interplay of light and shadow, the choice of composition, and the timing of the shot all contribute to the emotional narrative within a photograph.

The ability of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photography to freeze moments in time was his unique superpower. In a fast-paced world, we often fail to appreciate the fleeting beauty of a moment. Looking at black and white photographs in the exhibition of famous people such as Andy Warhol gave me the perspective of how commercial photography preserves memories of cultural icons, in the same way that personal photography allows us to capture and revisit and and preserve memories and emotions that might otherwise slip away.

In asking the question, “Why have I never appreciated the art of photography before?”, I embarked on a journey of self-discovery and visual enlightenment. The lens, once a simple tool for documentation, has become a gateway to a world of emotions, stories, and moments frozen in time. If you, like me, have ever overlooked the artistry inherent in a photograph, I encourage you to take a closer look. You might find, as I did, that the world through the lens is a canvas of unparalleled beauty waiting to be explored.

As we navigate the journey through midlife, it’s often a time of reflection, self-discovery, and the pursuit of new passions. One such avenue that holds the potential for profound personal enrichment is the art of photography.