Manhattan Magazine January/February 2013

From Fashion to Fine Art

David LaChapelle spent more than two decades producing glossy images of pop icons for Vanity Fair, Interview, and Rolling Stone. By the mid-aughts, fighting exhaustion, he retreated to Maui Hawaii and has re-emerged as much more than a fashion photographer.

In Still Life, his new exhibition on view at both Paul Kasmin Gallery locations, LaChapelle captures the disarray caused by vandals who broke into three wax museums, including the Nation Wax Museum in Dublin Ireland. His eerie images of dismembered icons (Madonna, Michael Jackson, Leonardo DiCaprio) are meant to show the fleeting nature of fame, celebrity and power. – Camille Hunt

You lived in NYC and now live in Maui. How has each place influenced you?

The energy of each is reflective of the different chapters in my life. When I was in my teens and 20s, NYC and particularly the Lower East Side, was exactly what I needed. Now I need an island of a different sort. In Maui I can spend a lot more time making pictures say what I want them to say. After all those years working for magazines and on music videos, I now take that vocabulary and put it toward ideas or techniques of communicating.

You’ve switched from fashion photography back to fine art. Why?

I’d gone from being in love with everything I was working on to starting to question everything I was doing. So many things came to completion – I finished Rize and my book Artists and Prostitutes, and the third edition of the trilogy of the trilogy LaChapelle, Heaven to Hell was released… Everything culminated in that ending. I had nothing left to say in the arena of fashion. My themes became more difficult for magazines to digest, and my stories were becoming harder to publish. I was also a complete workaholic and worked 11 months without a single day off.

Is photographing the vandalized heads of celebrity wax figures for Still Life a response to the splashy images you once produced?

I photographed a lot of these people in real life, then [the vandalism] brought into question the idea of relevancy. People try to stay young and relevant. We want our celebrities to be beautiful, but then when they age and get plastic surgery, we end up mocking them in the tabloids. It was a gut reaction when I saw the wax figures, but it took on more importance as I worked and thought about what it meant to me.

At only 49, you’ve had more success than many artists have in a lifetime. How would you like to spend the next phase of your career?

We gain enlightenment through art: teaching us about ourselves, the time we live in and our culture-that's the role of contemporary art. I want to touch people, to have them come out of the gallery feeling differently than they did when they came in-similar to the way they might feel after being moved by music. I don't know if I’ve gotten there or not, but that's what I strive for and that's what keeps me going.

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