Photographers in Focus: David LaChapelle
May. 4, 2018
In 1980, at just 17 years old, now iconic American photographer David LaChapelle left his rural North Carolina home for New York, which would lead to a meeting with none other than Andy Warhol. The established artist hired LaChapelle immediately as a photographer for his celebrated magazine, Interview. Warhol reportedly told LaChapelle: “Do whatever you want. Just make sure everybody looks good.” Socializing with the likes of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat in New York’s storied nightclub Studio 54, the emerging photographer followed through with Warhol’s invitation—where his compositions would grace the covers of major publications including Rolling Stone, Vanity Fair, and Vogue. In 2006, after a whirlwind career, the go-to photographer of the stars relocated to a remote forest in Hawaii, finding time to reflect on a life spent shooting the world’s brightest and best, while continuing to produce new boundary-pushing work.
Having grown up Catholic, LaChapelle’s eye has continually returned to biblical themes—albeit fed through an iconoclastic sensibility. Figures such as Michael Jackson are substituted in his compositions for Christ, while hypnotic—even narcotic—color palettes infuse his scenes with the gilded pomp and ceremony of the Catholic Church, taken to playful extreme. All the while, his work not so subtly hints at the erotic undertones of sacrament, pop culture, and sacrifice.
In this episode of Photographers in Focus, Connecticut-born LaChapelle took time out from tending to his goats and vegetables to talk about his new-found tranquility in his adopted home of Hawaii.