How Photographer David LaChapelle Became a Pop-Art Icon – Rolling Stone

DAVID LACHAPELLE IS to catch the plane. The plane is about to take off, and its nearness is most evident in the people associated with LaChapelle, next to LaChapelle, who sits deeply on a chartreuse velvet sofa by the Greenwich Hotel fire and orders tea and scones. “Crazy ones with truffle oil,” he says, before turning to me cheerfully. “You have to try one. I have never seen anything like this.”

Which, that’s what people like to say about LaChapelle’s body of work, the Day-Glo-hued, semi-surrealist, bacchanals that look good, no matter what he’s shooting – one of the many famous articles he did for this magazine. (see the photos below and the photos above), a lot of writing, a Christmas card for the Kardashians – he manages to combine high-quality ideas with art without the least bit of cynicism. They photographed Naomi Campbell naked pouring milk on herself and Pamela Anderson naked locked in a large terrarium and Miley Cyrus naked in a private room and Tupac naked in the shower. He has moved an old oil refinery to a tropical rainforest in Hawaii for Edward Hopper’s interpretation of nature and man. He cast random people he met at Trader Joe’s in his shoots, reinterpreting Titian. Rape of Europe and Campbell crying next to the lamb (Rape of Africa, 2009). He is called the “Fellini of photography” and a master of illustration. He had an example of pushing a mummy in a wheelchair down the Vegas strip.

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“He has a very direct, aggressive style,” says Jodi Peckman, former creative director Rolling Stone, adding that “the paintings were like theater.” He was also often edgy and fun: His East Village studio had a hidden room upstairs where, he says, “people like Whitney and Bobby would go to … um … Peckman made sure to pair him with artists who were “interesting ,” ready to play and distort their images, and have a joke with them.

Many of these images, and more, are shown at Make believe, retrospective at New York’s Fotografiska Museum from January 8, 2023 – the first occupation of the space by a single artist. But that’s not what LaChapelle, 59, wants to talk about when the crazy scones arrive. No, what keeps her draped in chartreuse velvet as the clock ticks and the controls are “living things,” she says. Not only religious pictures are written by LaChapelle, from the picture called “Jesus Is My Homeboy” – how he changed. The Last Supper in a kitschy city house – to his 2006 photo of Kanye West wearing a crown of thorns. He wants to talk about true faith. Because here’s the thing: The ice is melting. Amazon is on fire. There are dangers that people are trying to fight against, and LaChapelle doesn’t know how to handle it if he doesn’t believe that it’s all part of a plan. “I forgot who said religion is the opium of the masses,” he shares. “But I’m like, ‘Okay, shoot me.’

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What he wants to make clear is that: He is not scorning religion, but he relies heavily on it, creatively and personally. If there is a takeaway from the Fotografiska exhibition, it is not any comment on consumers (although there are) or celebrities (although there are) or identity (although there are also); and LaChapelle’s unironic attempt to provide medicine, to capture the immutable beauty of the divine, one image at a time.

THAT is a lot to fix, especially from the guy who filmed Eminem naked with dick dynamite. But listen to him. He grew up with a Catholic father and an artistic mother who believed in “the cathedral of the forest” and “just did magic,” putting his watercolors on the windows to look like stained glass. They lived in rural Connecticut. He kept a big garden. They wandered in the forest. LaChapelle says he knew he was gay when he was five, but didn’t come out to his family because he didn’t have to; they understood. At the age of 14, she and her boyfriend Kenny, who went to a nearby school, took a bus to New York’s Port Authority and found their way to Studio 54, where they were taken inside. He said: “People always ask me, ‘How did you get into the house when you were 14?'” “I’m like, ‘We got in.’ because we were 14.’ That first night, we went into the VIP room, and the Village People were there, the Hemingway sisters, Bruce Jenner, Andy Warhol, Truman Capote, Halston, everybody.

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By age 15, he had stopped going to school where boys threw milk cartons at his head for dressing like a cowboy. Lured by the “utopia” of the East Village, he left home, and ended up at 1st Street and 1st Avenue in the rented house of a woman named Vanessa, who worked at CBGB and was sometimes the spokesperson for the Plasmatics (“Wendy Williams”). sledgehammer in the Midwest. He climbed tables at a nightclub called Magique, and frequented the Art Students League on 57th Street. He went disco dancing and partied at the Mudd Club, where Keith Haring would man the door and paint on his glasses, letting kids in. all young inside. One day LaChapelle’s father came to Vanessa to drive her to an art school in North Carolina: “I’m like, ‘Dad, I’m in love with DJ!’ And he just kind of laughed at me and said, ‘Pack your bag.’

Photo by David LaChapelle

Free of the cattle police, LaChapelle excelled at art school, where he went from painting to drawing. A year later, he found his way back to Vanessa, skilled enough to sign up for a job with Warhol. Questions. He worked at Studio 54, where his job as a consultant was to take off his Polaroid shirt. She moved with her boyfriend, the dancer Louis Albert, to a “semi-squat,” where she ran a wire through the window to catch the lights and took the oldest pictures in the Fotografiska show. He shot people’s weddings (“Most everyone got divorced, but I could have one wedding for a year”). He thought he had reached heaven.

Then came the problem of AIDS. LaChapelle said about this time: “The hardest thing was that you couldn’t cry to your friends because you didn’t know if you would follow through.” You were so scared that you couldn’t even cry.” Instead, he shelled out $17 to take a bus back to Connecticut to swim in a pool near his parents’ house, where he knew Albert was going to die. LaChapelle said: “It was proof that I was starting to get sick. “Just knowing that ‘Louis is not going to be here.’

When more friends were dying, he began to think about where their lives were going, where, he says, “I brought me closer to God,” proving that “God is love” and “is not the cause of disease. and sickness and death and suffering.” He found a buyer who agreed to make four sets of giant angel wings for $2,000 — “all the money I had in the world” — and began taking friends to Connecticut to paint them as angels, saints, and martyrs in the Connecticut countryside. where he often went to meditate and pray. He said: “I didn’t think I would live this long.” “So I just want to make pictures, not for legacy, but just to have a purpose.” The invitation to his first exhibition, which took place in 1984 in the attic of a friend from Fotografiska, contained a picture of Albert. He died of AIDS a few weeks later, aged 24.

Photo by David LaChapelle

There were other things that happened. Although LaChapelle had not tested for AIDS in 12 years, when he did, he was surprised to learn that he was negative. He worked with Act Up. He married a woman for reasons unknown even to him – “Well, we were doing a bit of Ecstasy at the time” – and then followed her back to London, where he joined Leigh Bowery and Boy George. He took Warhol’s last portrait. He directed the music videos and the film titled Rize, and they started calling magazines to tell them who wanted to shoot, unlike what usually happens. Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, he spent several days in a psychiatric ward, and managed to get himself out in time to star in a Mariah Carey music video. By the mid-2000s, he said, “I had these rules for myself. I had to have three magazine covers out and a top 10 video TRL. I was a workaholic.” In 2006, after an employee said he hadn’t had a day off in 11 months, he bought a former nudist resort in Maui while on a shooting spree and planned to live there for the rest of his life. It worked, sometimes.


The images of angels are among the first to be seen in Fotografiska’s exhibition, but they are grouped with – and directly related to – the most recent: vivid paintings of religious themes and portraits taken in the green forests of Hawaii. “Michelangelo said he found evidence of God in the beauty of man — and I would add to nature,” says LaChapelle. “I find God in nature.” In fact, the latest images are so religious that LaChapelle had ideas to show them. “I was scared, to be honest,” she tells me, explaining that it felt like an exit she had never been to. “This is when people will be like, ‘Wow, he’s really into Jesus and stuff.’ I’m like, ‘Yeah. It’s true.’” He smiles, happy. “In the world of art, and fashion, if you want to surprise everyone, talk about Jesus.”

He polishes off the scone to the relief of his captor who puts him in the car to JFK. He will make his flight, of course. He will sit down, relax, and go to heaven.


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