"I want to get a picture that is the way I want to remember someone, It's like a diary in the end."

Capturing elegance, form and shadow was paramount for Maplethorpe in all of his photographs.

In the life and work of late artist Robert Mapplethorpe, two defining trends of the 1980s came together: the emerging awareness of the AIDS epidemic and a growing movement to limit funding for "obscene art".

Mapplethorpe is best known for his homoerotic photographs that captured New York City's gay community in the late 1970s and the self-portraits that unflinchingly traced his physical deterioration from AIDS a decade later.

One of his black-and-white prints is titled "Larry and Bobby kissing". Others are photographs of black male nudes with gleaming muscles. Among his self-portraits is one from 1978, which displays a playful Mapplethorpe, clad in cowboy gear, bending over to expose his bare buttocks to the viewer. In one hand, he is holding a whip.

By the late 1980s, Mapplethorpe's photographs revealed a man coming to terms with his upcoming death. In one self-portrait, only two body parts are visible against the black background: his gaunt, somber face and his fist. Instead of a whip, he clutches a cane topped by a miniature skull.

"I want to get a picture that is the way I want to remember someone," Mapplethorpe once said. "It's like a diary in the end."

The political and cultural climate of the 1980s was not ready for the frank sexuality portrayed in Mapplethorpe's photographs. Conservative North Carolina Senator Jesse Helms railed against the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for funding controversial art, including "The Perfect Moment," a traveling exhibition of Mapplethorpe's works. Just months after Mapplethorpe's death in March 1989, Congress cut the NEA budget by $45,000 and passed a bill that prevented federal financing of works that display "sadomasochism, homoeroticism, the sexual exploitation of children or individuals engaged in sex acts."

The ensuing media fracas granted Mapplethorpe heroic status, transforming him into a symbol of the struggle for freedom of expression.

It was not Mapplethorpe's original intention to become a poster child for any cause. "I just want to be written about as a normal artist," he said in American Photographer magazine.

A year before he died, Mapplethorpe changed his mind. He created the Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation to support AIDS research and visual arts, particularly photography. The press attention he received in 1989 instantly generated funding for the Foundation. His work became so popular, that proceeds from its sales raised more than was expected.

Mapplethorpe would be pleased with at least one of the Foundation's works. Six years ago, the Robert Mapplethorpe Residential Treatment Facility opened in New York City. It provides long-term care for HIV-positive patients with a full range of medial and social services, including psychiatric evaluations, education and treatment for drug addicts and of course, art therapy.

"The Robert Mapplethorpe Residential Treatment Facility has proven itself over and over as an excellent model of care," said Matthew E. Fink, M.D., president and CEO of Beth Israel Medical Center. "It has successfully enhanced the quality of life of its residents by offering them specialized care in a compassionate, supportive and mutually respectful environment."