Thursday, 30 December 2010

International Photographer Watch: David LaChapelle - Pop Art Photography

Whilst researching for an article on underwater fashion photography I rediscovered American cult photographer David LaChapelle through his recent exhibition including photographs from his underwater series "Awakened".

His over the top style became famous during the rise of celebrity culture as his work reflected everything that the new dawn of celebrity represented; sex, drugs, money, greed, high-fashion and excess of all kinds.

Nowadays LaChapelle is one of the world's most in-demand photographers and directors for advertising and publishing. His imprint is everywhere - from Burger King ads to the music videos he directs for pop sensations like Christina Aguilera. He has photographed everyone from Marilyn Manson, Angelina Jolie, Madonna, Lady Gaga to David Bowie and Cher - "all telling - no hiding" celebrity portraits: bright, loud and dripping with irony.

"It (celebrity portraiture) ended for me with Paris Hilton. I loved the superficial emptiness, the blonde hair, the extensions, the contact lenses, the spray-on tan ... she's so perfect." David LaChapelle

CNBC documentary on David LaChapelle: 

Coming back to underwater photography - well sort of, last year, LaChapelle exhibited a series of photographs of submerged people called the "Awakened". David explains that he had "been working so long with models who were quite conscious of the camera" leaving him desperate to figure out a way to keep his subjects from posing.

He got a large tank filled with warm water and basically dunk people inside, some of which did not even know how to swim. With the water being illuminated the subjects were forced to relax, all they could see was a big blur.

The "Awakened" was about rebirth exploring as LaChapelle puts it: "are they dying or are they being reborn or are they being enlightened". 

Referring to his beginnings as a photographer LaChapelle remembers avoiding magazine work, he was creating art and art belonged in exhibitions in galleries. Meeting the editors of Interview Magazine at one of his early shows it was Andy Warhol who persuaded him to join the team as their key photographer. Agreeing to it, he quickly developed this idea in his head "that magazines were like a gallery and if you got your magazine page ripped out and someone stuck it on their refrigerator, then that was a museum - someone's private museum. 
I have a huge museum in this case!

David LaChapelle:
"I’m hungry for art in general. I’ve studied and loved art. I don’t know if you call it studying, but since I was a child I’ve aspired to be an artist by whatever means possible: I wasn’t going to be any kind of businessman. It also gave me license not finish school, to not pay attention in classes, in mathematics, because I knew I was going to be an artist from a really young age. So I knew I was never going to need all the stuff they were teaching me in school. I loved art, so I read and studied everything I could. Even from the beginning I’ve always loved Michelangelo’s work, and have always been going back to it. I know that sounds strange because I was the one who was shooting Lil’ Kim and Pamela Andersen and Paris Hilton."

Asked about his style, LaChapelle explains that he "didn't really know about style. I didn't think about it: I did what I was interested in, what I was attracted to, what I was drawn to. I was drawn to color, and I was drawn to humor, and I was drawn to sexuality and spontaneity. It was all really intuitive. You just do what you love, and then the style happens later on."

Whatever you may call his style, what I love most about his work is his commitment to storytelling - sometimes weird, sometimes grotesque, sometimes shocking, sometimes ironic ... but always unique and fully committed.

photo credits:,,,,,,,,,,;

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