EXCESS ALL AREAS
Daring, explosive, surreal: David LaChapelle's photographs have been pushing the boundaries for 20 years. Now, in his latest book, some of the world's most famous stars and exhibitionists come out to play - including David Beckham as you've never seen him before.
You can spot a David LaChapelle photograph at 20 paces: the saturated Pop Art colour, the set-piece, minutelystyled imagery, the warped sense of humour. They look like the product of a deranged, albeit incredibly talented, child let loose with some tins of paint and a load of top-shelf magazines.
The latest example of his extraordinary imagination is a book, Heaven to Hell, a successor to Artist & Prostitutes. ("Prostitutes go to heaven," says LaChapelle. "It's their clients who go to hell").
Not surprisingly: it is LaChapelle's own life and experiences which inform his work: he had a stint as a prostitute himself, when he was starting out in New York at the age of 18 (he is now 37).
Broke, he made enough in a year to buy some camera equipment and a bike.
"There was something empowering about it for a guy like me," he recalls. "I guess it felt glamorous to be objectified in that way."
"Because I went with older, nicer men, I rationalised that I was providing some sort of social service. [But] it messes up something that should be kept pure and special and turns it into work".
LaChapelle, who cites Michelangelo as an inspiration, also admits to being bi-polar - a maniac depressive - which he tries to manage by healthy living and plenty of sleep. He abhors the trend, as he sees it, for medicating people "into being virtually lifeless". This could be because paradoxically, he has found his own manic periods to be some of his most creative, when he fills notebooks with drawings that will later become photo shoots. Yet he only he had a specific medical problem four years ago, when he was carried into a New York mental hospital by six policemen and ordered to stay there for a week.
His career began when he met Andy Warhol at a Psychedelic Furs concert in the Eighties, and Warhol gave him a job at Interview magazine. The experience of working there and living in New York's East Village were, to say the least, formative. He would bump into Keith Haring in the street, or find himself sharing a joint with Jean-Michel Basquiat. Now based in LA, he's been trying ever since to re-create in his studio that early East Village atmosphere. " I learnt about deadlines and making people look beautiful" he remembers" Andy didn't really care what you did to people: just make them look good. He was a really generous artist, and he was kind".
LaChapelle's career since has included videos for Robbie Williams and Mariah Carey, stage production for Elton John, adverts and album covers. Then there are the photographic portraits:
of David Beckham and David Bowie, Angelina Jolie and Jude Law; stars and starlets alike.
His fascination with the latter, however, ended with Paris Hilton "She embodies all that our society values right now. She is a mirror to our culture and her depth is profoundly vacuous".
So the future - at least photographically - lies with work like the cover of Heaven to Hell : a shot of Courtney Love as Mary Magdalene cradling Jesus. Love, along with Pamela Anderson is a favourite muse as well as friend. Both, he notes approvingly, are exhibitionists. There is after all little of the shrinking violet about David LaChapelle's work.
By Hilary Rose