Guy? Girl? Porn? Provocation? Not at all. Photographer David LaChapelle staged a mythical creature in the Garden of Eden for the Life Ball poster. An ambassadress of tolerance who reminds us that true beauty knows no gender.
Garden of Eden. The green grass glistens with nectar. A delicate pink cloud floats through the branches. Ambrosia? Its allure is irresistible. The warm light of a bizarre standing sun shines out from somewhere. This is what dusk must be like on Venus. At the heart of the scene, a goddess. She doesn't say anything, but rather lets her body speak. Somewhere a hungry animal makes a clicking sound. With each click, the creature's appearance changes. A short distance away, a man is crouching in deep concentration. He appears calm on the outside, but is full of wonder, like a small child. You can see it in the pupils of his eyes.
A short break for the goddess.
Suddenly the goddess (who was a god just a few seconds before) says: ‘I’m cold’. ‘Let’s take a break,’ says the man. The Garden of Eden bursts like a soap bubble. All that remains is the back garden of David LaChapelle’s home in LA. Garden furniture from the DIY store, a holey fence and mustard-coloured skies dotted with plane trails. Carmen Carrera scurries towards the terrace in bare feet—naked from head to toe. Once there, she throws a blanket over her slender back, flicking back her hair in one deft move, and bends over a laptop. ‘Awesome,’ she says every time she clicks on the touchpad. David smiles, lost in thought in the background. This is how he is photographing Carmen Carrera for the current Life Ball poster. Carmen, the third gender and naked, just as she created herself. Not porn— but authentic art. An unmistakable LaChapelle. David is happy with himself and with Carmen’s performance. His concept is a success. A spectacular coming out in its most original form: exhibitionism. The images are eyecatching, there’s no doubt about that. Innocent, almost naïve, and yet as calculating as Alexis Carrington Colby. ‘It’s not about shocking people,’ David LaChapelle says in the interview, allaying any concerns. ‘People like Carmen have long been marginalised in society. Now there is a new generation of transgender people who are bravely claiming their place in society. They are not freaks. For me they are the forerunners of a future without any gender-specific constraints.’ Hollywood’s photo darling does not wish to manipulate, but rather to ‘let beauty speak for itself,’ he explains, speaking slowly and calmly into the recorder. LaChapelle: ‘The word manipulation is rather negative. It sounds like a trick—like a means of deceit and deception. I don’t do that. I am someone who directs the spotlight at something, someone who presents something in a new light.’ According to David LaChapelle’s theory, we are creatures driven by fear, seeking their way in the dark. Art is the torch that allows us to recognize our environment. ‘That’s why I’m an artist,’ he says.
The Art of Arousing Attention
In 1984, at the age of 17, the artist snapped his first photos using a cheap camera, and with youthful audacity he knocked on a very special door—that of Andy Warhol. He granted LaChapelle admission to his studio, his ‘factory’, and this opened up another door. Actually a gate. A gateway permitting access to a career spanning over 30 years, which sounds just as adventurous as one of Warhol’s invented stories. LaChapelle recalls that ‘Andy had good instincts and knew how to focus the attention. He liked to talk about a ‘factory’ for example. He was ahead of his time in this sense, as in many other ways. His small studio was modest compared with the operations of today’s artists. Jeff Koons, Tom Sachs—they have gigantic companies.’ He also absorbed his workaholic tendencies from his master, Warhol. At the same time that LaChapelle’s exhibition accompanying the Life Ball is on display at OstLicht Gallery in Vienna, his exhibition ‘gas stations and refineries’ will be shown in the London-based Robilant+Voena gallery and in the Fairfield Museum in Connecticut.
David differs from his mentor in one key trait: ‘Although Andy was very shy, he sought out famous people. I, however, never go out. Away from my work in the photo studio, I live on an isolated farm on Maui. The ocean and jungle are pure luxury to me. I don’t have any electricity and I produce my own food,’ says the 51-year-old. The chronicler of the 80s and 90s and photographer of the Barbie & Ken generation is, however, at loggerheads with today’s plastic generation. ‘We live on credit in the false belief that we shouldn’t be worried about the future,’ says LaChapelle, forcing the focus back to Carmen Carrera: ‘It is particularly tragic when we condemn people for living differently. They show us an accessible pathway to the future. Projects like the Life Ball are extremely important. They fight against the general ignorance which is directed at people who think differently and at their way of life. And they focus on issues which actually concern all of us.’ The photographer (who has worked for all of the world’s most famous glamorous, glossy magazines since his first job for Warhol’s Interview magazine) claims the fact that the Life Ball has to bridge the gap between art and commerce does not present an obstacle to him. Without prompting, LaChapelle declared that he was prepared to design this year’s Life Ball car sponsored by Audi. ‘Creating art is always a privilege,’ he explains. Of ‘his’ Audi, he says: ‘The car is the material for me, albeit a very exquisite one.’
The Unique Human Body in the Spotlight
In the meantime his latest ‘material’ is in position again. ‘Let’s continue,’ says Carmen Carrera. A naked young man lies in front of her on the moist ground and tickles her toes. She laughs. David LaChapelle glances over at the amused pair, takes a deep breath and summarises the scene with the words: ‘The body has degenerated into a product which we sell or which we use to sell ourselves. Often just individual parts of it. A big dick, big tits or a fat arse are arguments for and against it. I don’t find that quite right. It’s exactly the opposite of how the ancient Greeks regarded humans. I would like to shift the focus back to the universality of the human body.’ A moment of stillness. And then ‘click’. We are back in Eden. Thanks to David.