Paper Magazine 1988

Wings of Desire
David LaChapelle believes in guardian angels.

Anyone who follows contemporary photography cannot not know who David LaChapelle is.

His career as a photographer began while attending an arts high school in North Carolina. Switching over from drawing to photography as his medium proved “a faster way to say what I wanted to say.” His first roll of film captured nude portraits of his classmates, young dancers and sculptors. It seems appropriate that this genesis has evolved into the current work; a host of angels, saints, mythical and allegorical figures.

It is this work that has become LaChapelle’s obsession over the past three years – and it has taken this long to complete the catalog of photographs that can be seen in no less than three separate exhibitions opening simultaneously in New York this motnh. Recently, we had dinner at a deserted Japanese Restaurant in the East Village where we chatted about these exhibits and the state of his art.

David Yarritu: Is you work based on specific myths or allegories?

David LaChapelle: No. Some of them are based on historical religious incidents, but the majority of them are original images. I’ve been photographing the images for three years, but just recently discovered how I wanted to print them. I knew I wanted to work in color; in my last two shows everything was in black and white and because it’s very classical, the work tended to look antique and it really bothered me when people said, “Oh it’s so beautiful. It looks so old.” If that’s a compliment… well, that’s the worst thing they could say because if it’s old then what’s the point of doing it? I wanted my work to look modern – even though I’m inspired by classical imagery. When I was in Japan, I saw these incredible technicolor ads… I was in a taxi in Tokyo and I saw this huge billboard and I knew I had to get back to work on this work and I knew I wanted to do incredibly large color photographs. I wanted the color to be like something I’d never seen in a color photograph. I wanted color that just jumped out. I wanted my pictures to have this edge. I wanted to do work that could compete.

D.Y.: Do you want to talk about the Title of the show “Your Needs Met”?

D.L.: Well that’s the promise of most spiritual doctrines: meeting your needs. People are always looking to have their needs met and that’s the answer that a lot of religions claim to give, that “these are the answers.”

D.Y.: So what do you want people who see your shows to “get” or to come away with?

D.L.: I definitely want my work to be uplifting. There is so much going on that’s negative and distressing. I think contemporary photography and performance is headed in a dark direction – I mean, I think that a lot of contemporary photographers just think that breaking the latest taboo – that depicting fist-fucking in a photograph or using dead animals… well it’s like “How far can I go?”

D.Y.: Your show at Ecco is a benefit for the Fund for Human Dignity…

D.L.: They support a 24-hour hotline for any gay or lesbian in crisis. So you know I’ve had to call them a few times. Anyway, they’ve sort of been overlooked in light of the AIDS crisis, and the concentration on benefits for AIDS charities. It’s a privately run organization that doesn’t receive any government assistance.

D.Y.: Finally, do you believe in guardian angels?

D.L.: I think so. I think angels can be whatever you want them to be – they are God’s thoughts – they are the highest thoughts you can have.

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