Star Focker

David LaChapelle's photographs will rub you the right way

"Paris Hilton on the Beach, L.A." (2000) shows a bevy of young, taut surfers surrounding a lackadaisical Paris Hilton, who lies on the wet sand, one breast showing and surrounded by soaked $100 bills. In "Britney Spears with Hot Dog (MTV)," one finds Ms. Spears with edible phallus in hand surrounded by a soft halo-like glow of glistening light and children playing in an open hydrant on a New York street. That his images work notably without depth of meaning underscores the fact that Hollywood is bountifully smoke and mirrors, that beauty is only skin-deep and truth slips and slides about on the surface of so many screens. He has transformed the act of taunting into a hedonistic experience, turning our personal love of celebrity-gawking and gossip into a productive image mill. The photos shove the shallowness of that culture, and the triteness of our love for it, back in our face with the most delicate ease. There is pleasure for all involved--the subjects of his photos, the audience of viewers and the artist at work.

The most intellectually provocative images are the gender-benders. His muse and model of choice in these photos is he-woman Amanda Lepore. In what is perhaps the most striking piece of all, "Amanda," LaChapelle photographs Lepore as Marilyn according to Warhol; that is, Marilyn Monroe based on one of Warhol's silkscreens made just after her suicide in the early 1960s. There are skid marks on the side of Lepore-Marilyn's face, suggesting that her face has been dragged down the side of a highway.

David LaChapelle's "Jurassic Moment," from Italian Vogue, 2004
David LaChapelle's "Jurassic Moment," from Italian Vogue, 2004

LaChapelle's imagination abounds with endless energy in these photographs. Surface play though they may be, these glossy images cut to the core of what it means to be a glassy-eyed consumer-citizen standing in wonderment before the powerful flatness of celebrity spectacle.

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