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William Burroughs (1914-1997) was a novelist, a guru and one of America’s underground heroes. His greatest novel, ‘The Naked Lunch’ (first published in France in 1959) was banned on the grounds of obscenity until, in a groundbreaking trial in 1966, it was declared not obscene. By 1980, when this photograph was taken, Burroughs was a countercultural giant. Mapplethorpe portrays him as a secular saint in prayer. Almost half the composition is taken up by Burroughs’s dark jacket, which thereby throws into sharp relief his head and clasped hands.