The Korea Herald


Photographer’s rebirth brings new inspirations

By Korea Herald

Published : Nov. 20, 2011 - 19:50

    • Link copied

David LaChapelle shows celebrity, campaigning chapters of his photographic career at solo exhibition at Seoul Arts Center

Lady Gaga, Madonna, Britney Spears, Hilary Clinton, Elizabeth Taylor, David Beckham, Paris Hilton, Muhammad Ali ...

The list of celebrities who have posed for David LaChapelle could go on. Limiting his success as a photographer to just the celebrities on the list, however, would be underestimating him.

LaChapelle’s works displayed at several galleries in 1984 New York caught the eyes of Andy Warhol, who landed the young photographer on a gig with the Interview Magazine. One opportunity led to another and LaChapelle was soon one of the most celebrated photographers working for top magazines like Italian Vogue, French Vogue and Vanity Fair.

The U.S. photographer, however, abruptly left the showy field in 2006 and secluded himself in a rainforest in Maui, Hawaii. It was then that a new chapter in his career unfurled.

“I needed to get off the world. I didn’t like what I was doing. The editors were like ‘why don’t you just show the dress’ and I wanted to show a story, so it was a paradox. They could not understand why I put emphasis on materialistic things. I mean, how many pairs of shoes do we need to be happy, really? It just didn’t make sense anymore. In a worldly sense, I was on top, but I had a feeling that I was lost,” LaChapelle told The Korea Herald on Sunday. 
David LaChapelle poses in front of his work “Holy War” on Sunday at Seoul Arts Center’s Hangaram Design Center in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald) David LaChapelle poses in front of his work “Holy War” on Sunday at Seoul Arts Center’s Hangaram Design Center in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

In Maui he built a farm. He worked on photographs as well, but only by wholly following his heart and intuitions and nothing else. That brought luck. He received a phone call which gave him “rebirth” not into the fashion or show biz but into the galleries, to which he thought he had “burnt the bridge.”

“It was unexpected and was a blessing. I believe that there is a value in what I do. My intention is not to get something but to always to give something. Especially when I thought that I had AIDS, and thought that I would be leaving anyway, I wanted to leave artworks,” said the photographer who still lives and works in Maui.

When his first boyfriend died of after being infected with HIV in 1984, LaChapelle was sure that he had it too. He found out that he did not 20 years later when he finally decided to undergo a test. Since 2006, his works have been mirroring different chapters of his life including such personal agonies to social issues ― religious conflicts, wars or natural disasters. He showcased his works in many galleries and museums all over the world, including Palazzo Reale in Milan, Italy, and Musee de la Monnaie de Paris in France.

His signature style of photography stays unchanged, though, in the witty, daring, sensational and pop artistic kind of way. They may even come as a shock to some conservative Korean viewers. LaChapelle, however, said that it is never his intention to shock people in anyway.

“When an artwork is made to be shocking, it is very superficial or has a hollow idea or intention. I work very spontaneously and it’s not from the intellectual. My goal is to touch people and connect through a visual image without having met them. That is the magical thing about the realm of art,” he said.

“It is a really great time to be in right now, and artists should really wake up. I mean, where is the outrage? It is a very important time for a new renaissance and it is really in the hands of the young artist. We have to start addressing what is going on in the world in another way because it is not working in news stations. They are just selling fear. We have to give hope. We need art, like we need nature,” said LaChapelle.

It is up to the viewers to feel whatever from the works. If he had to explain what they meant, said the photographer, it would be a failure.

“They are not made for the art world or a small group of intellectuals. Art that I don’t particularly care for are those made for the art world. I don’t like enclosure. I want my pictures to be like music. People who see them can be touched or moved ... they don’t have to have an art degree or have to read a book,” he said.

The photographer’s most comprehensive solo exhibition in Asia kicks off on Tuesday at Seoul Arts Center’s Hangaram Design Center in Seocho-dong, southern Seoul. It will feature over 200 of his signature celebrity and fashion photos as well as his latest works that weigh more on the purely artistic and critical values.

The exhibition will run through Feb. 26. Tickets range from 6,000 won to 13,000 won. For more information, call (02) 566-0835 or visit

By Park Min-young  (