One Of The Most Sought-After Photographers Deemed Heir To Warhol
LOS ANGELES, March 4, 2007
David LaChapelle took this photo of Paris Hilton called "Paris Hilton with Popsicle" in 2004. (CBS)
(CBS) There’s an old saying that the camera never lies. But at the very least, in the hands of David LaChapelle, the camera certainly tells some wild stories — and that's exactly what he is going for.
"My pictures have always tried to tell stories," he told Sunday Morning correspondent Serena Altschul. "They always have a narrative and a story in my mind. There's a reason for it. So I've always felt like a storyteller."
Altschul recently visited LaChapelle's Los Angeles studio, where he was working in what looked liked the set of a Hollywood disaster film. That was no coincidence: LaChapelle says he tries to make images that look like frames plucked from a movie. He then leaves it up to viewers to decide just what kind of movie they're seeing — whether it be a comedy, drama, horror movie or even an adult film.
Considering his penchant for pushing the boundaries of taste, it may come as a surprise that LaChapelle is one of the world's most in-demand photographers and directors for advertising and publishing. His imprint is everywhere — from an MTV commercial that satirized stars Courtney Love and Madonna, to the music videos he directs for pop sensation Christina Aguilera. His touch can also be seen in the bright colors and surrealist humor of a Burger King ad. LaChapelle says he is proud to produce "pop art."
He shares that sentiment with his mentor, Andy Warhol — the definitive pop artist. In the mid-'80s, just out of high school and looking for work, LaChapelle brashly approached Warhol with his portfolio.
"I just remember showing him my photographs of my friends from high school and him saying, 'Oh, these are great. These are great,' LaChapelle said. "I didn't realize at the time that was a word he used a lot, you know? 'This cookie's great.' And, 'Oh, the shoes are great.' And he didn't mean it in a — he wasn't blasé. He really thought everything was great."
But Warhol made good on his praise, giving LaChapelle a job at "Interview" magazine. By the late 90’s, LaChapelle had become the "It" photographer of the pop pantheon. Every pose became more outrageous, and his subjects loved him for it. A LaChapelle photo was a badge of being hip – and brave. He specialized in sexy ingénues, and his "Vanity Fair" spread of Paris Hilton helped launch her career.
"I'm sure there are people who are shocked by his work, or remain uncomfortable by his work. It's loud and brassy and it's in-your-face," director of the International Center of Photography, Willis Hartshorn, said. "To have your portrait done by him is to collaborate with him. And it's very clear from the product that you see the kind of paces you're going to be put through ... If that's the way you want to be seen you'll get it. And it'll be extraordinary. There's no question."
"I don't wanna reinvent people," LaChapelle said. "I wanna take the iconic pictures of them that say who they are. If there has to be one picture that they show in 20 years to describe the person, to narrate who they were and illustrate that, I'd like it to be one of my photos. That's the goal."
And it’s a goal he’s reached time and again. So much so, that as he approached 40 years-old, LaChapelle began moving beyond the gilded cage of celebrity portraiture. The result is his critically-acclaimed documentary "RIZE," which follows the lives of dancers in the poorest neighborhoods of South-Central Los Angeles. Their moves are so speedy, LaChapelle actually begins the film with this disclaimer which declares: "None of the images in this film were sped up."
"I had to put that in there, because their bodies are moving so fast, it actually looked like a film trick," he said. "The only effect in that film is the effect that those young artists, those kids have on your life."
"RIZE" revealed an unexpected side of LaChapelle, stripped of his trademark sets, lighting and celebrities. Instead of trying to create something, he said he allowed a slice of life to simply unfold.
"It took three years, and it revealed itself," he said. "I was just praying that it would get finished. I didn't want it to just be a bunch of tapes on a shelf. And I think I read somewhere that one out of a thousand documentary films ever makes it to a theater. And I'm glad I read that after I finished the movie."
Just last weekend, LaChapelle unveiled the next step of his development at New York's Tony Shafrazi gallery. Inspired by Michelangelo's "The Deluge" – a fresco in the Sistine Chapel – LaChapelle has created a series of flood-inspired photos. But don't worry; there is still plenty of pop left in this artist.