The famous fashion photographer turned artist, David LaChapelle, has always been very skilled in attracting attention. He rose from the world of art and disco, much inspired by Andy Warhol persona, and eventually found himself in the controversial world of fashion. His talent, profusion and perfectionism made LaChapelle one of the most acclaimed fashion photographers of all times. Supermodels, celebrities and everyone-who’s-anyone raced to find themselves in front of the artist’s camera, agreeing to be shot in the most provocative ways. As his career developed, LaChapelle’s style grew graphic, using sex, fetishism, and taboo as a part of his usual language, along with a strong, but deliberate, dose of kitsch. Magazines rebelled, but so did the photographer, making a break with the fashion sphere that lead him to a much happier place - art.
After he left his cameras and lenses and ran away to live a quiet, bio-food and meditation infused life in Hawaii in 2006, David LaChapelle did not expect to return to the business. It’s kind of a common knowledge that fashion photographers are generally not so welcome in acclaimed art galleries, since their works are considered completely commercial. However, not much time has passed for this creative to prove everyone wrong. Moved by art historical themes and styles he enjoys, LaChapelle created a specific expression much based on his fashion photography experience. Today, he is acclaimed for his rare gift to unite hyperrealism and meaningful social critique, conveying his messages through a mixture of Pop Art, street art and urban culture ,to Renaissance and traditional symbolism. Very much dedicated to raising crucial questions and examining our society’s obsessions with superficial and shiny, LaChapelle continues to make series of visually stunning photographs, occasionally delving into other media.
During his prolific career, David LaChapelle has photographed numerous celebrities, including Tupac Shakur, Madonna, Eminem, Andy Warhol, Philip Johnson, Lance Armstrong, Pamela Anderson, Lil’ Kim, Uma Thurman, Elizabeth Taylor, David Beckham, Jeff Koons, Leonardo DiCaprio, Hillary Clinton, Muhammad Ali, Britney Spears, Amanda Lepore, Katy Perry and Lady Gaga and many, many more.
When it comes to erotica, it has been continuously present in LaChapelle’s body of work. Even though his works have always rendered touchy topics connected with human sexuality, and sex in general, his characters were never represented in a vulgar way. Always styled, always with a sense of being ‘above the situation’, they ooze attraction and sex-appeal on the ethereal level. In the series to come, we've focused on the most erotic of David LaChaplle’s photographs, hand picked from the plethora of his photographic series from across his oeuvre.
The featured image above is Angelina Jolie in Poppy Field from 2001, where the erotic lust is strongly suggested, but skillfully concealed, without revealing any nudity at all.
Amanda Lepore is a famous transsexual model, David LaChapelle frequently uses. He shot her his homage to Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe, but his focus is primarily directed towards gender definition and roles. Lepore is a famous person, who became known for changing sexes, so the photographer here does not shy from toying with the idea of [perhaps] the most controversial kind of surgery. The over exaggeration of the model’s features goes hand-in-hand with the fact they are products of multiple plastic surgery interventions, but are still perceived as greatly desirable. LaChapelle portrays her as all woman, opposing the inherent bias regarding sexuality and sex change, while trying to emphasize the true person within the body it was always supposed to have. The above photograph from 1997 is practically iconic, with strong imagery used over and over again in soft and other kinds of erotica.
In a series shot in 2000, David LaChapelle questions our notions about pornography and its superstars. A porn diva here is an imaginary archetype, played by Ana Claudia Michels, a Brazilian model of German descent. The above picture being one of the most explicit of the series, the narrative tells a story of a glamorous and filthy life of a porn star, including her sparkling and downward moments, ending in her death in a garage. The entire series is impeccably styled, implying pornography from every angle, again, without revealing too much. It’s all about the feeling gotten from the atmosphere of the photograph.
Death by Hamburger series was made in 2001, with David LaChapelle playing with the concept of American hamburger culture and the aesthetics of the 50s diner. Very much a part of pop culture, the present imagery reveals another, repressed aspect of the era, with beautiful, plastic girls engaging in fashion posing filled with sexual innuendo. The above photograph may be the climactic one in relation to erotica, where one girl appears to be drinking vanilla milkshake from another girl’s high heeled shoe. The picture is quite graphic, merging a shoe fetish with one of the most sought after subgenres in pornography. Again, nothing it really happening in the picture, is it?
The above photo is entitled Gisele: Car Wash. It needs little explanation, since half-naked girls washing a hot rod is probably one of the most common male fantasies in the USA. Combined with the notion of a horny housewife, everything is clear. Still, looking at a young Gisele Bündchen washing that hot pink ride, holding a hose suggestively, someone with a keen eye cannot overlook the simplicity of the composition and the innate pop artistic nature of this photograph.
Russian Bath House belongs to the series Nature’s Naked Loveliness shot in 2003. Layered with suggestive motions, this piece is also full of contrasts, mixing up the repulsive nudes of middle-aged men portrayed from the back, and the fun play of two girls in the foreground. The girl to the right is using a hose to make the crystal arc with water, simulating the tabooed sexual act of golden showers, thus introducing another level of meaning into the scene. This photo is what people dare not comment in public, but may very well enjoy in private, which makes the choice of a public bathhouse as setting perfectly logical.
Naomi Campbell is one of the most successful supermodels of our time, photographed in a Bon Appetite series of David LaChapelle in 1999. Throughout the series, her sexuality is emphasized, without taking away from her [famously] strong personality. The above scene may be the most explicit in terms of imagery, suggestive and erotic, where the white of milk repels beautifully against Naomi’s chocolate skin. Still, she represents only a fantasy, lingering in a realm of ethereal blue, something we can all see, but never, ever touch or have.
A very recent work of David LaChapelle, from 2014, belongs to his series revolving around the notion of Paradise. Here, Garden of Eden is a metaphor for intellectual and spiritual illumination, through which the artist has gone in the recent years. In the above photo, LaChapelle is reclaiming the Paradise, boldly stating his visions on gender roles, and their transience and consequently, irrelevance when enlightenment is in question. Although he is not the first to distort traditional religious symbolism, he does it in a different manner, using a wonderful Maui forest as a backdrop for his work. This piece, controversial as it is, contains as much erotica as any other scene, while reflecting religious painting of old masters, once again showing LaChapelle’s ties to art history.
The photograph shown here is taken from Mirrors of God series, made in 1986-87. The series is a depiction of the artist’s discoveries of aesthetics, pop art, as well as an open interpretation of Sapphic nature of two models. Without being crude, he alludes to erotic ties between them, but dresses the photo in deliberately kitschy colors, influenced by the current culture of the mid-80s. Another level is uncovered after close examination of the piece, as the two figures resemble statues from antiquity with their alabaster skin and classical contrapposto of the standing woman, married with elements depicted in a bouquet of roses, which allude to the art of the Pre Raphaelites.
An experimental, largely black and white series of a then young David LaChapelle entitled Angels, Saints and Martyrs was executed in 1984. Photographs of nudes mainly exclude faces, depicting only bodies in motion in a blurry manner, where the artist obviously toyed with exposition. The above photograph is both classical and erotic, announcing the coming focuses of the artist, but simultaneously unveiling his emotive character. Contrasts serve as key pictorial tools here, and reflection of a pale woman’s body in the water makes an interesting composition.
Conducted in August 2002, a photoshoot with model Rie Rasmussen for The Face magazine birthed a series of sexually allusive photographs, with distinct references to contemporary art. The above piece is a part of the series entitled Hello Buoys, suggesting a seductive mood of the model, who is positioned in a very traditional manner, following all the rules of a male fantasy. Colors are toned down, putting the meaning bearers in front, from the rose petals, to the powerful female gaze. She is not an object of desire. She rules desire, busting all attempts of objectification. Closing our selection of LaChapelle’s erotica, this photograph provokes the imagination without being offensive.