At the World Cinema Showcase, Robert Mapplethorpe through a different lens. By CALEB STARRENBURG.

Black, White + Gray is a snapshot of enigmatic art curator Sam Wagstaff and his relationship of mutual exploitation with renowned photographer Robert Mapplethorpe. The documentary, by first time director James Crump, is primarily focused on the lesser-known Wagstaff. A privileged and handsome Manhattanite, Wagstaff worked for a time in advertising, which he hated, before his prolific career as an art curator and collector.

The film explains Wagstaff was pivotal in pioneering minimalism during 1970s, particularly through the Black, White and Gray exhibition. He would champion photography as a legitimate art form and build his own vast collection of photographs (sold to the J. Paul Getty Museum in 1984 for $5 million), before eventually hording silverware.

Mostly a series of talking heads and voiceovers (played against the backdrop of Wagstaff’s haunting photographic collection) the film reveals the highly complex and compartmentalised nature of Wagstaff’s life. A pleasure-seeking gay man from a conservative background, he is variously described as charming and narcissistic, a visionary artist and self-serving capitalist.

Wagstaff was 51 when he met 26-year-old Mapplethorpe. As Wagstaff nurtured the mostly unknown Mapplethorpe’s artistic career (various commentators contend he invented his protégé, and was in turn callously used) the two developed a relationship in shared pursuit of ascetic and erotic pleasure. Wagstaff would come to describe Mapplethorpe as “my shy pornographer”.

Amongst the film’s roll call of interviewed art historians and critics, it is the affectionate recollections of musician-poet Patti Smith that provides the documentary with a necessary thread of humanity, particularly when she recites lyrics written about the two men following their deaths from AIDS in the 1980s.

Black, White + Gray, while at times a frustratingly brief biography, is a fascinating examination of a complex individual, whose achievements would eventually be overshadowed by the photographer he helped create.