Molly, a 21-year-old Wilmington native and 2005 Hoggard High School graduate, first discovered photographer David LaChapelle through Leah Williams, a former fashion photographer who was Molly’s mentor during her senior year.
“She showed me David’s book Hotel LaChapelle. It was hot pink and came in this glossy hot pink box. The full bleed photographs and saturated colors … each image was so surreal and controversial. I was just captivated by it. The settings were so elaborate, and there was so much meaning behind each photograph. From that day on, he was my favorite photographer,” Molly said.
She pursued her passion by enrolling at the Savannah College of Art & Design. Midway through her second year, while logging into her MySpace account, she caught a glimpse of the name “LaChapelle.” After taking a closer look at the ad, the words on the screen ignited her imagination – “Win a photo shoot with David LaChapelle.” To register, all she had to do was submit a 100-200 word essay on herself and the URL of to her MySpace page. The winner got a personal photo session with LaChapelle. “I never expected to win. I don’t even remember what I wrote, but I didn’t make any changes to my MySpace page. I had a bunch of goofy dress-up photos on there – me with dreads, as Paris Hilton for Halloween…. It definitely came across that I did not take myself too seriously.”
An e-mail changed her life.
“I had just gotten out of the shower and was about to get ready to go out for the night when I received an e-mail on MySpace saying, ‘Please contact Paul Cupo at my studio immediately.’ I e-mailed Paul my phone number and instantly he called. Paul told me that out of 8,000 people who applied to David’s contest, he had chosen me. I was still in my towel and I began trembling. It was like a dream that I never quite woke up from.”
Why David chose Molly: “He said I came across very genuine and honest – like I was not trying to impress him,” she said.
California dreaming becomes a reality
She flew out to L.A. alone, having never been to California, and with the hope of staying with a distant cousin she never met. Wearing a short yellow dress and a large diamond clip in her hair, she sat in the reception area of David’s L.A. studio peering through the floor-to-ceiling windows, wondering if she could live up to David’s expectations.
“It’s a strange feeling being chosen for something based on photos on the Internet,” she said. “I hoped I would come across the way they envisioned I’d be.”
Then, their eyes met through the glass.
He insisted Molly stay at his other house in L.A. “Instantly, he was so generous. I couldn’t believe it.”
During Molly’s first week at the studio, David was shooting the MTV Video Music Awards promotional ads for Billboard Magazine. Each day, a different star breezed by her desk – Rihanna, Kanye, The Foo Fighters.
“I had to be careful not to appear star struck. One day David called, ‘Molly, Molly! Come in here. I have someone I want you to meet.’” It was Fergie.
Molly closely observed David’s dedication to his work. “Some people may be surprised how serious he takes his work since his photos are so wild, fierce and spontaneous. Each shoot requires weeks, months of planning. There are long hours in the office. David always incorporates an element of art history into his work. The details are all significant in one way or another. He plans every move he makes. I was nervous for a while since I look up to him so much.”
David promoted Molly to the position of studio production assistant. He also cast Molly as the studio’s house model with on-camera appearances in a Motorola commercial, a J Lo video and as a 1970s junkie model in a Boogie Nights-style video for Elton John’s Goodbye Yellow Brick Road for the live Red Piano show in Las Vegas.
‘It opened my eyes’
The Elton John shoot was the same week Molly was scheduled to return to school in Savannah. She decided to put her education on hold.
Molly’s parents, Joy Gottschalk and Ben Gottschalk (both based in Wilmington), did not protest her decision. “They’ve been unbelievably supportive and proud of my experience. They are just so excited for me,” Molly said.
After several months of budget-busting $20 Ginger Roger martinis at Bar Marmont, all-night dance parties in Milan and easy access beyond Hollywood’s exclusive velvet ropes, Molly finally fulfilled her contest prize with a one-on-one photo session with David. Late one Friday evening, they entered the prop room together where they put on a mock fashion show holding up a series of potential outfits. David was very specific about Molly’s hair and makeup, insisting on a nude lip, lots of lashes and no foundation to create a film noir aesthetic and accentuate her natural beauty.
“It was so nice to have this time with him. It was such an intimate, special experience....something I’ll never forget. He stood a few feet away from me while he shot. There were fans blowing my hair everywhere. He was an incredible director always giving me specific direction on how to turn my face, move my eyes, etc. He took at least 300 photos. I saw a few proofs, and I love them. They are definitely my favorite photos of myself.”
Molly’s portraits will be featured in David’s upcoming gallery show that will be focused on a more fine art-based direction as opposed to his signature fashion/celebrity portraiture. Molly officially reached celebrity status herself as David’s MySpace Muse when Black Book magazine published Molly and David’s serendipitous MySpace rendezvous in the February 2008 “Hollywood” issue.
What will the future bring for this Wilmington-local-turned-L.A.-lady?
“It’s so funny when I think back on the original contest rules since the experience turned into something else entirely. It opened my eyes artistically to a new career. I am now more interested in production, conceptualizing and designing the scene instead of capturing it behind the camera. David LaChapelle has completely changed my life.... Sometimes I wonder...what if I hadn’t looked at MySpace that day?”