What Can David LaChapelle's Celebrity Fuelled Fantasias Tell Us Now?

What Can David LaChapelle's Celebrity Fuelled Fantasias Tell Us Now?

Dan Piepenbring for The New Yorker - 18 December 2017

David LaChapelle made his name by shooting celebrities colliding with consumer detritus: baubles, flowers, and fame recombining in delirious explosions of color. In the nineties and early aughts, his slick aesthetic, which lifts lavishly from Christian pageantry and Renaissance painters, was inescapable, splashed across fashion editorials, advertisements, and music videos. By 2007, having been derided in some quarters as a vapid commercialist, he’d left the business and absconded to Maui, where he lived off the grid at a shuttered nudist colony. In a recent interview with the Guardian, he said that he’d needed to escape the “propaganda” embedded in his work. “I never wanted to shoot another pop star as long as I lived,” he said. “I was tortured by them.”

Two hefty new books of LaChapelle’s photographs, “Lost + Found Part I” and “Good News Part II,” are marked by that torment; he’s said that these will be his final publications. Compiling old and new work, some of it previously unpublished, the books are teeming with very popular people (Nicki Minaj, Miley Cyrus, Whitney Houston) doing very unpopular things (standing nude in front of tanks, getting nosebleeds). No one could accuse LaChapelle of subtlety. But, looking through the volumes, I was surprised to discover that his pictures have aged well, perhaps because what seemed like surreal hyperbole five or ten years ago seems bluntly, embarrassingly honest today. By embracing the fulsome style that shaped his career, the collection makes a vibrant, sometimes perturbed case that LaChapelle’s sensibility is even more apropos now than it was in his heyday.

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