You wouldn’t have heard “Hey Ya” in a mall in Minneapolis a decade ago and decided black people had simply more edge; you wouldn’t have overeaten that gluten-free, sugar-free boutique chocolate bar and had laxative-like effects keep you awake last night, despite being nestled twixt your crisp Egyptian cotton sheets, the hum of your rotator fan at your ear, the whir of inbound LAX air traffic outside; you wouldn’t have watched the Michael Jackson murder verdict on your Samsung while transiting from Bangkok to Seoul; you wouldn’t have swum the Great Barrier reef with your ex-wife, much of what you two were awed by now just colors you don’t wanna recall, fixtures best left behind; you wouldn’t have texted your boyfriend that tilted emoticon with the “whoops!” hands after he declared your ice cream consumption a state of emergency; you wouldn’t have lit your vein up with that hefty bag of brown and wandered Elysian Park, dreaming of betterment; you wouldn’t have argued over croissants in the 20em about the unmatched bravado of Philippe Sollers, the bravery of Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the wonderful albeit silly comment from from Emil Cioran that “without Bach, God would be a second rate figure”; you wouldn’t have bawled into that napkin when you learned your mother had ovarian cancer; you wouldn’t have yorked into a similar napkin a room over from your sleeping grandmother while watching POV ass to mouth in real time on your iPad; you wouldn’t have wandered cathedrals; you wouldn’t have combed your hair; you wouldn’t have careened your sedan into a guard rail, drunk and divine, the airbag thumping you in the face, saving your stupid life; you wouldn’t have cycled the Pyrenees; you wouldn’t have seen Kraftwerk seven times; you wouldn’t have been robbed in Dubai while trying to show a Russian prostitute how to really play piano; you wouldn’t have twerked. You wouldn’t have done any of this if not for David LaChapelle. Or wait. David LaChapelle wouldn’t have done any of this if not for you.
Here’s the deal. You wouldn’t have done any of this, David LaChapelle wouldn’t have taken the photos in this feature, we wouldn’t have printed this magazine, and Obamacare wouldn’t be causing grief, if not for oil. Therein is the focus, the crux, the cookie crumble. The bees knees, the Don Johnson, the cat’s pajamas. See his optically elusive renderings lurking in the jungle, providing power to no one, and everyone. It’s all the same, he’ll say, a pool, exhausted, nauseated, overwhelmed, hurried, needy, pleading, ready, primed, exorbitant: this modern life. What some gung ho motherfuckers extracted from the grounds of Pennsylvania, or Mesopotamia, or wherever it’s argued this can-do came from, good or bad it is not. We humans, though, we have our variances, our capabilities. David LaChapelle is a contemporary artist, who came up with oil, like you and everyone else. He’s a visionary, he’s a lot of fun. He doesn’t want to make grand statements; he’d like to leave things rather objective, like the oil in the ground, before it’s sucked up, processed, distributed, made in all manner of shit, warred over, depleted, and so forth. Here are his latest photographic efforts: a two-year project of erecting lofty structures on miniature scales— requiring not only a great deal of patience but team work—for two series, “Land Scape” and “Gas Stations.” And here are his comments.
Tell us a story about this project’s inception, David.
I’m in Maui. I happen to leave my side of the island to go to the other side, to go to the Costco for the first time in my life. It’s such a bubble out there when I go out there, it’s so isolated. So I go for the first time to this fucking Costco and I’ve never been to one and I’m amazed. I can’t believe that this little island could sustain a giant store like that. It’s massive. So I go in and I’m in the food section, right, and there’s this giant bag of perfectly shaped watermelons. And having an organic farm has taught me really how difficult it is to grow organic food. And beyond that—how GMOs have impacted the environment, and the bees are dying from systemic pollination, and the insecticides are screwing everything. I can get way off track but this bag, there were like six watermelons…from Argentina. And, they were like $4.99. You know, how the fuck is that possible? I mean they’re gonna look at us one day and think, ‘These people are actually out of their fucking minds!’ I mean, we’re living in such an age of decadence, whether we know it, are aware of it, or get it. And that doesn’t mean you’re shoving caviar down your throat. We’re buying six watermelons for five dollars from Argentina in a place where everything grows. Who’s paying that price? I mean it’s insanity, it’s global insanity, and I’m a part of it. And I’m not pointing my finger either.
So we’ve reached critical mass? What’s the solution, if there might be one?
For the most part, yes, things are out of control. What is going to save us? People today—whether they’re metaphysical speakers or whether they’re scientists—have to put aside the need for immediate recognition and greed. So really, it would take a massive spiritual awakening. Which a lot of times can only be brought about when you’re on your deathbed or you have cancer or something—when everything’s been taken from you. The flood comes and you lose everything. You’ve seen people, human nature. ‘Oh my god! I’ve lost my fucking car keys’ and you’re having a fit about that. Your house burns down, catastrophe happens and you get the, ‘Thank God I’m alive. Thank God you’re alive. We made it.’
One of the coolest things about the images is your technique with scale, but there’s also something to your having sourced all this from junk, and repurposed it photographically. Tell me.
Yeah, look: I put a garbage can here, which is actually just a tiny little Red Bull bottle. They look really cool. We had to use garbage. We had to go to the garbage. We had to use plastic scraps, big gulps, bendy straws, tin cans; stuff that we toss away. Recyclables and the non-recyclables. The Pringles jar. The goal was kind of just to grab people’s attention. [Gesturing toward what appears to be petroleum tank-sized frog…] There’s my toad that came from my frog pond and I just brought him over. We sat still for like six-second exposures. This is a problem when you have really long exposure in a digital camera. It cannot deal with nighttime. We had to work on this stuff. But this is all analog. There’s no going in and moving things. There’s no retouching. You can see what we’re building. And really, just making these models think, ‘Well why would you spend all this time and do this?’ Because there’s a beauty. This is the American landscape. And when you’re a kid you look at—what’s that town when you’re driving into Los Angeles that you go by with those big refineries? Where the refineries are? Long Beach, right?—You’re like, ‘Oh my God!’ Because it looks like Oz right? Oh that’s bad. That’s energy. That’s oil and it’s bad. And really, it’s not bad. It’s what we’ve done with it, what greed has done with it.
One of the images utilizes the Pacific horizon off of Malibu. Any reason you chose this particularly loaded neighborhood as a site for the shoot?
I needed a beach. I needed an ocean. I wasn’t really thinking about the power structure of Malibu or the people over there. Really I just needed an ocean for backdrop for these…for this nuclear reactor. And that’s why it’s important to film and document this stuff because it’s a crew of people that make these models and so forth, not me alone doing this. I have really talented people who I work with, and I collaborate with and they have to get their credit. Giving it to me is not fair. It’s not correct. This is all built by a team.
Consider the petrol station in the jungle. You don’t have attendants, customers, people. It’s servicing everyone and no one at once. Tell me about that decision.
I love shooting figures. I was thinking about having figures…I was ready at one point where I wanted to throw people in the background running through the forest and having these blurs almost like spirits and ghosts, and then I was like, ‘Fuck it, they’re really strong enough as it is. Don’t over do it…restrain myself.’
Written by Matthew Bedard