Edward, on the other hand, thrived in the darkroom. And because he had access to his brother’s equipment, he began to experiment, shooting and developing his own film, as any photographer’s assistant would. Says Danziger, “When Edward first started doing his own work, it was in some cases almost indistinguishable from Robert’s. Robert’s conception was that Edward was copying him; in fact, he was really doing his thing.”
Despite his success, Robert was clearly bothered by the fact that his younger brother was starting to become a photographer in his own right, at one point even complaining that Edward was shooting portraits of his friends, some of whom were black men. This was further complicated by the genetic fact that the brothers looked so much alike. Jack Walls, who was Robert’s boyfriend at the time, says that when he saw Edward from a distance at a Sotheby’s auction of Robert’s work, he mistook him for his boyfriend. Others made the same mistake.
In the spring of 1983, about a year after Edward started working in his brother’s studio, he was invited to participate in a group photography show that also included Christopher Makos, Joel Peter Witkin, Cindy Sherman, and … Robert Mapplethorpe. “I was scared to tell him,” says Edward. “So I just didn’t.” When the invitation came out, “Robert hit the roof.” To make matters worse, Edward was listed before Robert on the lineup. (“E comes before R,” Edward explains.) Walls remembers a night when Robert obsessed about his brother from “one or two o’clock in the morning until the sun came up. It was all about how he thought it would be better if Edward changed his name.”
The next day, Robert invited Edward to lunch. “We went to this diner on 8th Street, and he was very aggressive,” says Edward. “He said, ‘I’m not going to have any kid brother of mine riding on my coattails. I’ve worked hard to get to this point, and if you think…’” Edward trails off, wincing at the memory. “This is the brother I grew up idolizing!” he says, still incredulous. “For him to treat me like that? I was like, ‘All right, all right.’ I wasn’t strong enough to say, ‘Fuck you.’” He pours himself another glass of wine from the bottle on the table. “My mother’s maiden name is Maxey. So I became Ed Maxey overnight. Didn’t make any sense, because everybody knew.” Another sip of wine. “It was ridiculous!”
As we get up to leave the restaurant, we run into a mutual friend, someone Edward hasn’t seen in several years. The friend introduces Edward to his dining companion as Edward Maxey and is immediately and forcefully corrected: “It’s Mapplethorpe.”
“I’m your little brother! You’re worried about me eclipsing your career?”
I met Edward Mapplethorpe when he was still calling himself Ed Maxey. It was a Saturday night in August 1992 and I was at the Sound Factory, the club on 27th Street that was the epicenter then of after-hours nightlife. I ran into two friends who were with Edward. He had an irrepressible smile and beautiful blue-gray eyes, and was quick to laugh. I liked him immediately. We all wound up back at a friend’s apartment for an after-after-party, and at some point I wandered into the kitchen and found Edward and a few others hovering over several lines of powdery drugs.
I had known of Edward Maxey, the photographer, before that night, had seen his photographs in Interview and Paper, but I had no idea that he was Robert Mapplethorpe’s brother until then. I also had no idea how painful his life had become.
His life had begun to come unraveled just as it was getting started, shortly after his first show, after Robert made him change his name. Not surprisingly, Edward grew restless and dissatisfied and decided he had to leave his brother’s studio. “But Robert was complicated,” he says. “He drew people in. And when you were in his world, it was hard to get out. I told him that I was going to move to L.A., and he was like, ‘How dare you leave me?’ He brought me to tears.”
Robert immediately hired a new assistant, Javier Gonzalez, a young, attractive boy he met in Spain who spoke very little English. He asked Edward to stay an extra month to train him, but things in the studio grew tense. “There’s that dark side to Robert,” says Edward. “He thrived on pitting people against each other and people getting in arguments. And it was orchestrated in a very sordid way.” After finally getting to know his brother, Edward was being excommunicated. “Once Javier was there, I was already out of the picture,” he says. “Robert was not being as nice to me. Once he was done with you, that was it.”