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 halfway to death. Mapplethorpe even photographs his head very slightly out of focus (compared with his hand) to suggest his gradual fading away.