Surrealists, baroque, beautiful. Much is said about the images of the outstanding US photographer. Bound for a long time to celebrities and fashion, his last series, Still Life, opens a critical ridge concerning the world he himself has portrayed for so many years.
“If I can use beauty as a tool, even if it is subversive, I would do that. Beauty is, for myself, necessary”. With this clear demonstration of intentions, David LaChapelle (Connecticut, 1963) defines the big guidelines that mark his work. With an extensive body of work that includes portraits of great celebrities of the world of fashion and films, scenes with surrealist touches based on religious events, citations of great works of Art history and an endless production marked by the saturation, the colour and the movement, the North American photographer has achieved an aesthetic which is already recognized as his own.
His latest series of photographs, Still Life, exhibited in the Daniel Templon Gallery in Paris, reflects how the artist -using the same topic that defines a great portion of his work- shows a critical point of view about the perception of beauty. And at the same time revealing a more conceptual approach to photography. It is about the photographic register of wax figures of celebrities and famous personalities, many of whom LaChapelle has photographed in person throughout his career. Everything began in Dublin in 2009, when he visited the Wax National Museum and saw where the mannequins were torn as a result of vandalism and how these had deteriorated with time. After that he photographed figures of the Hollywood Wax Museum, which had been withdrawn and stored in the warehouse. Then, he photographed others in the museum in Nevada. This way, he began a three-year process of photographing museum pieces. And not the common pieces being exhibited, but the ones left aside, which have finished their exhibiting cycle.
In Still Life, figures of Margaret Thatcher, Ronald Reagan, Bono, Madonna or Princess Diana, broken, are fragmented and deteriorated. Personalities whom we often see unblemished, harmonious, pretty and forever young, pose in front of our eyes in a plain and mortal way, telling us that nothing is forever. Everything fades or deteriorates, man is not eternal, and we ourselves age day by day losing the freshness of our skins. In this series, LaChapelle ́s work becomes more critical of the world that he himself had previously portrayed as the eternal beauty. Now, it is a broken beauty. “I have always been interested and felt curious about the aging process. Especially those who we love to see as our heroes or icons, the people we make our stars. The idea of their value and beauty and what happens when that beauty fails. Why do you adore them and then later mock them, when they get fat or get too much plastic surgery. We mock them for getting old when this is part of the natural circle, we are all going to get old”.
The series is intimately linked to LaChapellés previous work. Along his career, the photographer has developed the portrait and also still life. Still Life gathers two great ways of facing photography and at the same time blends the religiousness of these images with decadence and deterioration. “I have always been interested in the idea of celebrities and religion and how they interplay, how religious feelings are brought up sometimes with celebrities. The same emotion that we have with religious feelings, we idealized them”, explains the artist.
The world of art, the world of fashion.
Nowadays, David LaChapelle divides his time between Los Angeles and Hawaii. He spends most of his time in the Maui Islands, in a ranch outside of the movement and hustle and bustle of the city. With his years of experience, his vast and accomplished trajectory and the serenity of being one of the most valued photographers of the times, he has decided to focus entirely and fully to each and every one of the projects that he makes. He is at a point of his career where he can afford to do only the things that he wants to do, even if it means to reduce the rhythm of his production: “I don’t want to create just merchandising, just stuff. I did that, but now, at this point, I do what I want to do, so I am doing fewer pictures now. That is truly what makes me wake up in the morning. I really lost being able to do what I wanted to do since I was a little boy. Now I want to make visual art”.
For the artist, however, the idea of creating art goes far beyond how many understand it as such, and without a doubt surpasses these limits and that of the fashion. ““I have mix feelings about the idea of what the fashion world or the art world is. I am interested in a much bigger world; making images not for the art world and definitely not for the fashion world, because I find it very insular and limited in their reach. Particularly, I do not like art destined for the world of art. This idea that there is an “inside” or an “outside” of art, to talk to only a handful of people when you can talk to the whole world”.
That is how the photographs speak in a universal language, based in the attractive and striking images. An attempt to democratize each one of its productions, opening spaces for the free and spontaneous interpretation of the spectator. Using beauty as his main weapon, LaChapelle has been able to reach millions of people in a direct and simple way. This spontaneity and conviction is what makes the comparison of art and music, where it is not necessary to be an erudite in the matter to discover the attraction for a particular piece. “I am passionate about making pictures that I feel have an impact to touch people, like music. I want to make an impact in people, to break through them, to touch them, to move them”, he says.
“I choose beauty. I can make ugly things, destructive, confusing, but that is just a mirror of the world that we are in. If you want to look at ugliness, just open the newspaper”. That sincerity is David LaChapelle referring to the way in which he has developed his work. An honesty that is thankful and which is tangible in each one of his images. For some, it can even turn out to be offensive the manner of treating themes such as religion, sexuality or the exploitation in Africa. For others, a direct way of talking of what happens in the world.
This overloaded aesthetic, something kitsch at times, where colour and movement in scenes are almost surrealist, is especially perceptible in works like Rebirth of Venus (2009), a cite to symbolize the work by Boticelli; Thy Kingdom Come (2009), Rape of Africa (2009), or Earth Laughs in Flowers (2011), a non-conventional still life. In Deluge (2009), we observe a cite in one of the scenes painted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel. Different characters intend to resist the storm while behind them fall icons of consumption as the Caesar ́s Palace, Guccis logo and Burger King. In All u can eat (2002), great foods and animals like a hot dog, a Coca-Cola or a spider fall surprisingly to the street. Another series that did not go by unnoticed was Jesus is my Homeboy (2003). The phrase, which LaChapelle read in a t-shirt, made him ask himself about Jesus ́ best friends: the apostles. In this way he built a series that places a contemporary Jesus with the friends he would have had if he had existed in our era. Poor people, vagabonds, prostitutes and drug addicts would be part of the prophet́s closest friends.
David LaChapelle ́s work is extensive, as well as his experience in the different disciplines, even beyond the photography. His creativity, originality and the excessive but glamorous style at the same time have sealed a very own and coveted style by brands like MTV, Ford, Diesel and H&M, among others. He also has performed as a director of musical videos of well-known musicians as Moby, No doubt, and Elton John. He has published two books and worked in performances and directing movies.
An artist that emerges from the spectacle world, through beauty, to talk to us about the contemporary life. “If I have the choice to create something I am going to use beauty as a tool to get pictures of the world”.