To pave a way for himself, US photographer David LaChapelle left his home in Connecticut at the age of 15 to pursue photography in New York, where he spent most of his youth in the darkroom.
“I just wanted to take pictures,” he said at a press conference at the Ara Modern Art Museum in Insa-dong, Seoul, last week. “I did anything related to photography to survive.”
A couple of years later, he was discovered by the late pop artist Andy Warhol, who offered him a job at Interview Magazine. LaChapelle eventually went on to work at leading magazines, such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and Rolling Stone, where he photographed some of the biggest pop icons, including model Naomi Campbell, rapper Eminem, actor Leonardo DiCaprio and singer Elton John.
For the high school dropout, the magazine industry was his university, he said.
“I was a workaholic, but, about 10 years ago, I suddenly got a feeling that it was time to stop,” he recalled. “As I tell young artists, you need to make time for yourself to listen to your inner GPS.”
He then moved to Maui, Hawaii, in 2007 to start a farm, but it was not long before he was commissioned to set up an exhibition in Germany. Since then, he has returned to his roots as a fine art photographer, using his art to comment on world issues, such as the petroleum-reliant culture, as shown in his 2013 “Land Scape” series.
Although LaChapelle has, for most of his life, strayed from the mainstream, his works feature fantasy-like situations with models who meet the conventional standards of beauty often reinforced by the media.
For example, his 2009 piece “Rebirth of Venus,” inspired by Botticelli’s 15th century masterpiece “The Birth of Venus,” features a tall and slender blonde-haired woman baring it all, surrounded by two brawny men, along the forested coast of Hawaii.
As an artist, he recognizes this paradox, but is steadfast on his ultimate objective of reintroducing beauty to the world in these “dark and confusing times.”
“The role I have in documenting the world is different from photojournalists, who often show the harsh side of reality,” LaChapelle said. “Things are not always as they appear to be, and beauty is one way to engage people and for them to ask questions about our culture and society.”
For his next project, the 53-year-old photographer is looking back on his life, and working with the concept of life and death that he has been grappling with since living through the early days of the AIDS epidemic in New York in the 1980s.
His upcoming two-volume photo book “Lost and Found,” scheduled to be released next year, will include a never-before-seen series, titled “Lost in Paradise,” which he has been working on for the past decade in Maui.
“As an artist, what I want to do is not really rescue figures from being commercialized, but take the idea of beauty of men in nature,” he said.
LaChapelle’s exhibition “Inscape of Beauty,” featuring some 180 pieces from throughout the artist’s career, runs until Feb. 26, 2017 at the Ara Modern Art Museum. Tickets are 12,000 won for adults, and range from 8,000 won to 10,000 won for students. For more information, visit www.aramuseum.org.
By Kim Yu-young