David LaChapelle (born March 11, 1963) is an American commercial photographer, fine-art photographer, music video director, and film director.
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"
. Once called the Fellini of photography, LaChapelle has worked for international publications and has had his work exhibited in commercial galleries and institutions around the world.
David LaChapelle was born in Hartford, Connecticut to Philip and Helga LaChapelle; he has a sister Sonja and a brother Philip. His mother was a refugee from Lithuania who arrived at Ellis Island in the late 1960s. His family lived in Hartford until he was 9. 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. Then he moved to Raleigh, North Carolina, with his family, where they lived until he was 14, before moving back to Fairfield, Connecticut. He was bullied in his North Carolina school for his sexuality. When he was 15, 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 the Arts.
His first photograph was of his mother Helga on a family vacation in Puerto Rico. LaChapelle credits his mother for influencing his art direction in the way she set up scenes for family photos in his youth.
LaChapelle was affiliated in the 1980s with 303 Gallery
which also exhibited artists such as Doug Ait. After people from Interview magazine saw his work exhibited, LaChapelle was offered work with the magazine. When LaChapelle was 17 years old, he met Andy Warhol, who hired him as a photographer for Interview Magazine
. Warhol reportedly told LaChapelle "Do whatever you want. Just make sure everybody looks good."
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.
LaChapelle's work has been called "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 gay or lesbian couple kissing. Much of its controversy was due it being published at the height of the Don't ask, Don't tell
debates in United States, 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 finally accepted legally."
Themes in LaChapelle's art photography, which he has developed in his Maui home, 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"
LaChapelle's images "both bizarre and gorgeous have forged a singular style that is unique, original, and perfectly unmistakeable."
His 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 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.
David LaChapelle is a celebrated American photographer and video artist. He is perhaps best known for his commercial fashion portraits of celebrities and models, including photos of Amanda Lepore and Angelina Jolie. LaChapelle’s signature blend of colorful, conceptual imagery bears the influence of both Surrealism and Pop Art. Often humorous or provocative, his use of full or partial nudity in numerous advertisements and editorial shoots prompted Helmut Newton
to remark, “A lot of the nudity is just gratuitous. But someone who makes me laugh is David LaChapelle. I think he's very bright, very funny, and good.”
An avid consumer of pop culture, LaChapelle is also inspired by the breadth of art history, frequently evoking the compositions or poses of Renaissance paintings. Born on March 11, 1963 in Fairfield, CT, LaChapelle’s early work was noticed by Andy Warhol, who then offered him a job at Interview Magazine
in the 1980s. His photographs are included in the collections of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art
, the National Portrait Gallery
in London, and the Tel Aviv Museum of Art
, among others. He currently lives and works in New York, NY.