He is best known for his photography, which often references art history and sometimes conveys social messages. His photographic style has been described as "hyper-real and slyly subversive" and as "kitsch pop surrealism." One 1996 article called him the "Fellini of photography," a phrase that continues to be applied to him.
David LaChapelle was born in Fairfield, Connecticut and lived there until he was nine years old. Then he moved to North Carolina with his family, where they lived until he was fourteen, before moving back to Connecticut. He has said to have loved the public schools in Connecticut and thrived in their art program as a child and teenager, although he struggled with bullying growing up. He also attended the North Carolina School of the Arts and School of Visual Arts in New York City. His first photograph was of his mother, Helga LaChapelle, on a family vacation in Puerto Rico.
He was bullied in his North Carolina school for being gay. When he was 15 years old, he ran away from home to become a busboy at Studio 54 in New York City. Eventually he returned to North Carolina to enroll in the North Carolina School of Arts.
LaChapelle was affiliated in the 1980s with 303 Gallery which also exhibited artists such as Doug Aitken and Karen Kilimnik. After people from Interview Magazine saw his work exhibited, LaChapelle was offered to work for the magazine.
When LaChapelle was 17 years old, he met Andy Warhol, who offered him his first job as a photographer at Interview magazine. Warhol reportedly told LaChapelle "Do whatever you want. Just make sure everybody looks good." His photographs of celebrities in Interview garnered positive attention, and before long he was shooting for a variety of top editorial publications. LaChapelle's friends during this period included Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat.
LaChapelle’s images subsequently appeared on the covers and pages of magazines such as Details, GQ, i-D, The New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, The Face, Vanity Fair, Vogue Italia, and Vogue Paris.
His commercial photographs have been collected in a number of books. LaChapelle Land (1996) was selected as one of 101 "Seminal Photographic Books of the Twentieth Century" and is "highly valued by collectors." His second book, Hotel LaChapelle (1999), was described as a "garish, sexy, enchanting trip." Heaven to Hell (2006) featured "almost twice as many images as its predecessors," and, "is an explosive compilation of new work by the visionary photographer. LaChapelle, Artists and Prostitutes (2006), a limited-edition, signed, numbered book 19.7 inches (50 cm) high and 13.6 inches (35 cm) wide, contains 688 pages of photographs taken between 1985 and 2005. Artists and Prostitutes was published by Taschen and includes a photograph of the publisher Benedikt Taschen in a sadomasochism scene.
LaChapelle's work has been noted as being, “meticulously created in a high-gloss, color-popping, hyper-realistic style,” and his photos are known to, “crackle with subversive – or at least hilarious – ideas, rude energy and laughter. They are full of juicy life.”
In 1995 David LaChapelle shot the famous ‘kissing sailors’ advertisement for Diesel. It was staged at the peace celebration of World War II and became one of the first public advertisements showing a homosexual couple kissing. Much of its controversy was due it being published at height of the Don't ask, Don't tell debates in USA, which had led to the U.S. Government to bar openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service. In a long article published by Frieze in 1996, the advertisement was credited for its “overarching tone of heavy-handed humor and sarcasm”. In September 2011 when the Don't ask, Don't tell law was finally removed by President Barack Obama, Renzo Rosso, the founder and president of Diesel who originally had approved and pushed for the advertisement, said “16 years ago people wouldn't stop complaining about this ad. Now it’s (open bi- and homosexuality in the U.S. Military) finally accepted legally."
Themes in his art photography, which he has developed in his Maui retreat, include salvation, redemption, paradise, and consumerism. It is clear that LaChapelle's moving in this, "new direction highlights his interest and understanding of both contemporary practice and art history." His fine art work frequently features models/muses: Amanda Lepore and Katie Johnson.
LaChapelle cites a number of artists who have influenced his photography. In a 2009 interview, he mentioned the Baroque painters Andrea Pozzo and Caravaggio as two of his favorites. Critics have noted that LaChapelle's work has been influenced by Salvador Dalí, Jeff Koons, Michelangelo, Cindy Sherman, and Andy Warhol.
LaChapelle directed singer Elton John's show, The Red Piano at Las Vegas' Caesars Palace, which premiered in 2004. The show features extensive use of video technology on an LED screen backing the show that, when built, was promoted as the largest and brightest of all time. Several of John's songs during the performance are accompanied by short films by LaChapelle.
His interest in film led him to make the 2004 short documentary Krumped, an award-winner at the Sundance Film Festival. It concerned the Los Angeles dance style krumping. After Krumped he self-financed and developed RIZE (2005).
In recent years he has exhibited his works at many one-man shows around the world, including the Barbican Museum in London (2002), Palazzo Reale in Milan (2007), the Musée de La Monnaie in Paris (2009), Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso in Mexico City (2009), Kestner Gesellschaft in Germany (2009) and the Tel Aviv Museum of Contemporary Art in Israel (2010), from which he received the honor of Artist of the Year in 2011. Also recently, major retrospectives of his work have been shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei (2010), Museum of Contemporary Art in Puerto Rico (2011), Hangaram Museum in Korea (2012), Rudolfinum Gallery in Prague (2011/2012), and the Fotografiska Museum in Stockholm (2012/2013). Recent acquisitions include Los Angeles County Museum of Art (2012), National Portrait Gallery in London (2012), and National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC (2012).
His father was Philip LaChapelle and his mother is Helga LaChapelle; he has a sister Sonja and a brother Philip. LaChapelle credits his mother for influencing his art direction in the way she set up scenes for family photos in his youth.
Then in 2006, the already established LaChapelle abruptly quit the scene. LaChapelle moved to … a “very isolated part of Hawaii in this forest”. “It’s off the grid, bio-diesel cars, solar-powered, growing our own food, completely sustainable. I thought ‘OK, I’m a farmer now’,” he describes. The ‘path’ LaChapelle is talking about is his move back to the galleries. While in Hawaii, LaChapelle got a call from a longstanding colleague to shoot for a gallery, something he hadn’t done since his days as a fledgling photographer in New York. “I was really shocked,” LaChapelle says when he got the call. “I’m so known as a commercial artist, a big name as a fashion and celebrity photographer, I didn’t think a gallery will take me seriously.” “It’s like being reborn; it’s like rebirth; it’s like starting over,” LaChapelle says excitedly. “It’s back to where I started, where I very first started in galleries when I was a kid. It’s just come full circle.”
Hotel Lachapelle by David LaChapelle
Hardcover: 168 pages
Publisher: Bulfinch; 1st edition (November 1, 1999)
Amazon: Hotel Lachapelle
An all-new selection from the outrageous "enfant terrible" of contemporary photography, this volume is even sexier, funnier, and more fantastical than the bestselling "LaChapelle Land." 158 full-color photos.
More Photographers at my website: www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Art
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