A mammoth new collector's edition book puts David LaChapelle's astonishing
career into perspective.
In another attempt to stake out the farthest reaches of his creative universe, LaChapelle is now bringing out a new book, and it too will be a hit with collectors -- by design. Discreetly titled Artists & Prostitutes, it is being published by Taschen in a limited edition of 2,500 copies signed and dated by LaChapelle. The book is an oversized 13.6 x 19.7 inches, and at 688 pages it comprises a full retrospective of LaChapelle's work -- everything from his latest fashion pictures to his porno-chic imagery for Arena and other magazines, as well as his memorable portraits of celebrities whose cultural impact may well be far less enduring than his pictures -- Lil' Kim, Paris Hilton, Tupac Shakur, and Pamela Anderson, to name a few.
"If there's an exhibitionist left who wants his or her picture taken," LaChapelle once said, "I'll be there."
Therein lies the meaning of the book's title.
"Actually I wanted to call my first book Artists & Prostitutes, but the publisher wouldn't let me because he thought it was in bad taste," says LaChapelle. And the meaning? "It works on a lot of different levels," he says. "There are artists and prostitutes in the world, and I don't make a judgment about them, I photograph everyone the same way." In fact, says LaChapelle, "some of my best friends have been prostitutes, and sometimes to be an artist is to be a prostitute, and vice versa. I once read this great quote from a prostitute, who said that when she was with a client she always had to find something about him to love, even if it was just his shoes. And that's the way it is for me in photographing all the celebrities I do. For the time they're in the studio, I have to find something about them to love, even if they're not being very nice."
The book begins with an image LaChapelle made at the beginning of his career in 1985, a shot of the Beastie Boys in Times Square. The layout then places the surprising span of his career into perspective. "Up until now I don't think my work has been well understood except by the people I work closely with," he says. LaChapelle takes particular exception to the idea that he is just a digital magician who produces his amped-up images in Photoshop.
"It's true that I was employing digital technology early on, because I had a grant from a Japanese company to test out their equipment," he says. "But in fact what we really do is build sets, paint backdrops, and all the images exist in real time. We don't do all that much in post-production."
His famous shot of a nude Lil'Kim covered in Louis Vuitton logos, for instance, required the diminutive rapper to be body painted. The driving vision springs more from an instinct for theater than from digital know-how. "I'm really not that interested in computers," LaChapelle says.
He also dislikes the idea that he has only one trick, or one emotional response, to every subject. "I don't allow myself to be just the guy who's a clown, who does all the wild colors and light, funny photos," he says. "Not allowing myself to be categorized is what's kept me around for so long. And I think this book represents that -- it's the first time all the work has been put together in one place."
Plumbing a 30-year career and editing it down even to a relatively expansive 688 pages would seem to be a daunting task, and indeed LaChapelle spent three years planning and laying out Artists & Prostitutes. Some photographers say they hate looking at their past work, preferring whatever current project they happen to be working on.
"I really enjoy looking back to see what I've done, and where I've been," says LaChapelle. "Each picture is a record of what I was doing, who was working on the shot with me, people I was in love with who I put into the images in some way. For me, my commercial work is also a personal photo album of my world."
And it is one thrilling place.