From his 1989 NY Times obituary:
Mr. Mapplethorpe first gained widespread notice in the late 1970's for his elegantly composed, beautifully printed black-and-white photographs of the male figure, many of which were explicitly homoerotic. But he photographed the female nude with equal stylishness. Throughout his career he made portraits and still lifes of an almost sublime simplicity and intensity.
His photographs show a remarkable ability to give even the most common photographic subjects the status of icons.