Today we’ve got another entry in our Masters of Photography series, where we look at the life and work of some of the 20th century’s most influential photographers. Today we’re looking at David LaChapelle.
LaChapelle is well known for his unique visual style which mixes art history with elements of hyper-realism and regularly offers social messages about current events.
LaChapelle was born in Hartford, Connecticut in 1963. His photography career began in the 1980’s when he began showcasing his work in various New York City galleries.
After having his work noticed by Interview magazine and meeting Andy Warhol, LaChapelle was hired by the magazine. Warhol reportedly told the young photographer to “do whatever you want. Just make sure everybody looks good.”
LaChapelle’s bright and eye-catching style soon led to him taking on more and more commercial work, with his images featured on the covers The New York Times, GQ, Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, Vogue, and many more.
During his years as a commercial photographer, LaChapelle captured images of some of the most well known celebrities in the world.
His images often placed his subjects in ridiculous or fantastic surroundings, such as his image of Carmen Electra and Dave Navarro as a pair of corpses in a morgue.
Many of his celebrity images also included wild and ridiculous props, such as his images of David Bowie among a variety of masks and puppet heads, or his images of the group, Blink 182 on the back of a garbage truck.
While undeniably striking and eye-catching, many of LaChapelle’s pieces also carried subtle (and sometimes overt) political undertones or alternate messages.
One of his most famous political pieces was his Kissing Sailors image for the brand Diesel. This image of two male sailors embracing and kissing was released at the height of the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell movement in the US military which prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants while barring openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service. This image was significant as it was the first public advertisement showing a same-sex couple kissing.
In 2006, LaChapelle left commercial photography in a move seen by many as abrupt and unexpected. He moved to an isolated area of Hawaii and went off-grid.
It wasn’t until a friend invited him to shoot some images for an upcoming gallery exhibit that LaChapelle returned to his first photography style, fine art.
Speaking to Taxi in 2011, he said: “I was really shocked, 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.”
He likened returning to fine art photography as being “reborn” and was pleased to come full circle to the area of photography in which he started.
Which of David LaChapelle’s images is your favourite? Be sure to let us know in the comments.