Turning celebrity photography into an art form, David LaChapelle defined the celebrity era of the late 1990s and early 2000s. As one of the world's most sought-after photographers, his surreal, theatrical images blur the boundary between commercial and fine art photography.Read More
Growing up in suburban Connecticut, LaChapelle dropped out of high school and ran away to New York at the age of 15, where he started working at the iconic club Studio 54. After returning to live with his father for three years, he returned to New York and was discovered by Andy Warhol, who offered him a position at Interview magazine and became his mentor. Coming of age in 1980s Manhattan, when the AIDS pandemic began to take its toll on the creative community, LaChapelle was in the midst of the creative boom. Going to openings and hanging out with artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring, LaChapelle later travelled to London to capture its vibrant art scene. Soon, his photographs were commissioned by fashion magazines such as British Vogue, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, and GQ.
LaChapelle's early works are satirical, outrageous, and bizarre. In some of his most popular photographs, such as the 'Jesus is my Homeboy' (2003) series, LaChapelle places well-known characters in unusual settings—in this case, depicting Jesus amongst marginalised and demonised social groups. Even though LaChapelle had a significant impact on fine-art photography through his signature mix of colour with conceptual imagery, today he is mostly associated with his iconic celebrity photoshoots and directing music videos for pop stars.
Working with Elton John, Lady Gaga, Hillary Clinton, Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton, Britney Spears, and Madonna, LaChapelle's lurid, grotesque images, together with their high-end production, became his trademarks. Influenced by both Pop Art and Surrealism, they defined image-making in our time.
In 2006, after being diagnosed with bipolar disorder and years of being convinced that he had AIDS, LaChapelle left his homes in New York and Los Angeles and moved to Maui, leaving pop stars and fashion magazines behind. No longer interested in shooting commercial photo shoots, he turned to topics such as spiritualism and the power of nature. In 'Paradise' (2009—2015), controversy meets religious symbolism, pointing to what matters to the artist today—nature and peace of mind.
Although he no longer works 14-hour days, he occasionally agrees to photograph celebrities whom he finds interesting, seen for example in his 2020 cover shoot with Lizzo for Rolling Stone. His photos continue to be provocative, spiritual, and sexual. He has photographed Kanye West as Christ, Michael Jackson as an angel, and Kim Kardashian as Mary Magdalene. A Christ-like figure also graces the cover of his 2017 book Good News, which moves beyond the material world in a search for a lost paradise.
LaChapelle's hyper-saturated, pop cultural works often reflect on the nature of fame, celebrity, and power, infused with pulsating sexual energy and explicit nudity. Gender never really mattered to him. Amanda Lepore, a transgender American model, whom LaChapelle photographed as Andy Warhol's Marilyn (1962), has been one of his greatest muses and inspirations. Both Lepore and LaChapelle are all about boundary-breaking: be it the boundary between female and male, or between fashion and art.
LaChapelle always knew that he wanted to be an artist, and it took some years before he was accepted by the fine art world, and his work began being exhibited in contemporary art galleries and museums.
After moving to New York at age 17, LaChapelle briefly exhibited his early photographs with the influential 303 Gallery in 1984, but parted ways shortly thereafter, when he was hired by Warhol to work for Interview. In 2009 and 2013, he began showing with Reflex Amsterdam and Galerie Templon respectively, both galleries who continue to represent him.
David LaChapelle's website can be found here.
Maria Markiewicz | Ocula | 2021
Singapore Art Week returns from 11 to 19 January 2020 with a host of island-wide events, at the centre of which is the second edition of S.E.A. Focus (16–19 January 2020) at Gillman Barracks, showcasing the best of contemporary art in Southeast Asia.Read More
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