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The skull is the classic image of death and vanity, a reminder that we mortals are all destined to die. Mapplethorpe himself died from an AIDS-related illness in 1989 and in his latter work he tackled the prospect of his own death directly. He has placed the skull in such a position that the large eye sockets are emphasised, like black holes when set against the brightly lit forehead. Mapplethorpe has chosen to concentrate on those organs that determined his life – the eyes. He has also placed the skull in front of a diagonal line that not only holds it in place in the centre of the composition, but also acts as a shaft of light coming down from the same direction in which the skull is staring.