In this late photograph, Mapplethorpe is no longer playing a role, as he did in so many of his earlier self-portraits. It was taken a few months before he died from an AIDS-related illness in 1989. In it he faces straight ahead, as if he were looking death in the face. The skull-headed cane that he holds in his right hand reinforces this reading. Mapplethorpe is wearing black, so that his head floats free, disembodied, as if he were already half-way to death. Mapplethorpe even photographs his head very slightly out of focus (compared with his hand) to suggest his gradual fading away.