David LaChapelle

David LaChapelle (b. 1963) is an American photographer and film director. He is best known for his photography, which often references art history and sometimes conveys social messages. His style has been described as ‘hyper-real and slyly subversive’ and as ‘kitsch pop surrealism.’ One 1996 article called him the ‘Fellini of photography,’ a phrase that continues to be applied to him.

He grew up in Connecticut and North Carolina. He has said to have loved the public schools in Connecticut and thrived in their art program as a child and teenager, although he struggled with bullying growing up. He was bullied in his North Carolina school for being gay. When he was 15 years old, he ran away from home to become a busboy at Studio 54 in New York. Eventually he returned home to enroll in the North Carolina School of Arts. He would later attend the School of Visual Arts in NYC.

LaChapelle was affiliated in the 1980s with 303 Gallery in Chelsea which also exhibited artists such as Doug Aitken and Karen Kilimnik. After people from ‘Interview Magazine’ saw his work exhibited, LaChapelle was offered to work for the magazine. When LaChapelle was 17 years old, he met Andy Warhol, who offered him his first job as a photographer at ‘Interview.’ Warhol reportedly told him ‘Do whatever you want. Just make sure everybody looks good.’ His photographs of celebrities in Interview garnered positive attention, and before long he was shooting for a variety of top editorial publications. LaChapelle’s friends during this period included Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.

His images subsequently appeared on the covers and pages of magazines such as ‘GQ,’ ‘The New York Times Magazine,’ ‘Rolling Stone,’ and ‘Vanity Fair,’ and ‘Vogue Paris.’ His commercial photographs have been collected in a number of books. ‘LaChapelle Land’ (1996) was selected as one of 101 ‘Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century’ and is highly valued by collectors. His second book, ‘Hotel LaChapelle’ (1999), was described as a ‘garish, sexy, enchanting trip.’ ‘Heaven to Hell’ (2006) featured ‘almost twice as many images as its predecessors,’ and was described as, ‘an explosive compilation of new work by the visionary photographer.’

Also that year he released, ‘LaChapelle, Artists and Prostitutes’ (2006), a limited-edition, signed, numbered book 19.7 inches high and 13.6 inches wide, containing 688 pages of photographs taken between 1985 and 2005. It was published by German art book publisher Taschen and includes a photograph of founder Benedikt Taschen in a sadomasochism scene. LaChapelle’s work has been noted as being, ‘meticulously created in a high-gloss, color-popping, hyper-realistic style,’ and his photos are known to, ‘crackle with subversive – or at least hilarious – ideas, rude energy, and laughter. They are full of juicy life.’

In 1995 he shot the famous ‘kissing sailors’ advertisement for Italian clothier Diesel. It was staged at the peace celebration of World War II and became one of the first public advertisements showing a homosexual couple kissing. Much of its controversy was due it being published at height of the ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell debates’ in US, which had led to the US Government to bar openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service. In a long article published by British contemporary art magazine ‘Frieze’ in 1996, the advertisement was credited for its ‘overarching tone of heavy-handed humor and sarcasm.’ In September 2011 when the ‘Don’t ask, Don’t tell’ law was finally repealed, Renzo Rosso, the founder and president of Diesel who originally had approved and pushed for the advertisement, said ’16 years ago people wouldn’t stop complaining about this ad. Now it’s (open bi- and homosexuality in the US Military) finally accepted legally.’

LaChapelle directed singer Elton John’s show, ‘The Red Piano’ at Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace, which premiered in 2004. The show features extensive use of video technology on an LED screen backing that, when built, was promoted as the largest and brightest of all time. Several of John’s songs during the performance are accompanied by short films by LaChapelle. His interest in film led him to make the 2004 short documentary ‘Krumped,’ an award-winner at the Sundance Film Festival. It concerned the Los Angeles dance style krumping. After ‘Krumped’ he self-financed and developed ‘RIZE’ (2005), a feature length documentary film on the topic.

Then in 2006, the already established LaChapelle abruptly quit the scene. He moved to a, ‘very isolated part of Hawaii in this forest.’ ‘It’s off the grid, bio-diesel cars, solar-powered, growing our own food, completely sustainable. I thought ‘OK, I’m a farmer now,” he describes. The ‘path’ LaChapelle is talking about is his move back to the galleries. While in Hawaii, LaChapelle got a call from a longstanding colleague to shoot for a gallery, something he hadn’t done since his days as a fledgling photographer in New York. ‘I was really shocked,’ LaChapelle says when he got the call. ‘I’m so known as a commercial artist, a big name as a fashion and celebrity photographer, I didn’t think a gallery will take me seriously.’ ‘It’s like being reborn; it’s like rebirth; it’s like starting over,’ LaChapelle says excitedly. ‘It’s back to where I started, where I very first started in galleries when I was a kid. It’s just come full circle.’

Themes in his art photography, which he has developed in his Maui retreat, include salvation, redemption, paradise, and consumerism. It is clear that LaChapelle’s moving in this, ‘new direction highlights his interest and understanding of both contemporary practice and art history.’ His fine art work frequently features models/muses: Amanda Lepore and Katie Johnson. LaChapelle cites a number of artists who have influenced his photography. In a 2009 interview, he mentioned the Baroque painters Andrea Pozzo and Caravaggio as two of his favorites. Critics have noted that LaChapelle’s work has been influenced by Salvador Dalí, Jeff Koons, Michelangelo, Cindy Sherman, and Andy Warhol. His first photograph was of his mother, Helga LaChapelle, on a family vacation in Puerto Rico. LaChapelle credits his mother for influencing his art direction in the way she set up scenes for family photos in his youth.

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