Style (and Substance?) in the Photos of David LaChapelle

I think that the photos of David LaChapelle fit perfectly with the discussion we had in class about “style.” His personal style is one of gloss, color and celebrity. All of his pictures look expensive in the sense that they appear to represent high production value in the form of costly lighting, make-up, costumes and props. His photos also fulfill the three components of style as talked about in our class: visual, subject matter and message or goal.  Below are the 10 photos of his that I feel best represent his unique and artistic style.




This photograph of the actor Matt Dillon perfectly demonstrates LaChappelle’s personal style. His visuals are represented by the photo’s slick, colorful look with lots of studio lighting. His subject matter is represented simply by this being a photograph of a celebrity in an odd setting. LaChapelle is known for his penchant to surround actors and musicians with lots of bizarre props. Finally, his goal is represented by the fact that this is a high-quality image that could run in a magazine like Rolling Stone. Personally, I am most drawn to the portion of the photo that shows his face reflected in the glass of water.




I specifically love this photo of Elton John because it is so over top. Part of LaChapelle’s aesthetic is cartoony or surreal. This is especially true of this picture of Elton John; he looks like a bizarre cartoon character that is living inside a Tim Burton film. The final thing I noticed about this photo is that LaChapelle might be sending a comical message with regards to Elton John’s personal style. John’s fans are used to seeing him in crazy get-ups, in fact it wouldn’t be surprising to see him in a suit that was covered in the same bananas and cherries that make the background. Instead, LaChapelle dresses him in a plain white suit and lets the craziness that surrounds him speak for itself.



I love this photo of Madonna. Here she is actually quite subdued and it’s the technical effects, in this case the light-crown that leaves a cool looking trail, that capture the attention of the audience. It’s possible that one aspect of LaChapelle’s style is that he likes to play with the pre-conceived notions that people have about celebrities like Madonna or Elton John. It might be the message that he is trying to send but I think it is one that is hard for most people to pick up on because his images are so produced. LaChapelle might be sending a message through his photography but in my opinion it’s getting lost behind all the pomp and circumstance.



I think that this image of actor Ewan McGregor is quite fun and playful. It actually shows a different but positive side to LaChapelle’s work. Part of his style is tied to the numerous creative thoughts that must flood his brain on a daily basis. This picture represents LaChapelle’s preference for bright Hollywood lighting but it isn’t as glossy as some of the previous pictures. In my opinion, it’s supposed to be a scary scene with a hard partying woman pulling a gun on a bloody man but the doll and its accessories make it so absurd that it becomes silly.




This picture of Lady Gaga shows the side of LaChapelle that likes to push the envelope. Lady Gaga is already a character/entertainer that shocks people with her attitude and crazy outfits but LaChapelle took her image to the next level. Unfortunately, LaChapelle’s next level is usually a sexy naked woman. I personally don’t have a problem with sex or nudity in art but it gets old when someone like LaChapelle uses it as a crutch. It might have actually been more shocking or attention getting if he had used his creativity to show Lady Gaga as she is never seen, without make-up and wearing a conservative outfit.



This photograph of supermodel Gisele Bundchen is interesting but I think that LaChapelle is trying to promote a blantant message here; one of eating disorders as represented by the diet pills and fat burners on the bathroom counter. Also, the model’s sexy black lingerie doesn’t necessarily fit the setting. She looks like she is from a more recent era and that frumpy bathroom appears to be a relic from the 1980s. The use of the mirror to create a repeating image is a nice touch though.



LaChapelle is capable of using his style to enhance photographs that don’t have high production value, as seen in this more simple shot of Angelina Jolie. It’s basic in its look but LaChapelle’s style is still all over it. Jolie’s straight-on gaze is very sexual in nature and this doesn’t appear to natural lighting but instead appears to be manipulated with bright filler lights. LaChapelle’s love of color saturation is visible here in the vibrant green that is the grass. LaChapelle highlighted the color and length of the grass in such a positive way that I wanted to lie down in it myself when first looking at this photo.



This is an interesting picture of British singer Kylie Minogue because LaChapelle’s love for high-key lighting displays itself, even at dusk. Minogue is also made-up to be much younger than she is in real life. This is another one of LaChapelle’s trademarks that I don’t know how to interpret. He has a habit of dressing up grown women as underage sexpots. I’m actually not sure what to think of this aspect of LaChapelle’s aesthetic, if his photos should just be taken in jest or if there is a genuine lack of substance and content to his work.



I’ve noticed that a lot of LaChapelle’s photos show one of two emotions: sexual desire or a complete lack of emotion. In my opinion, this photo of actress Kirsten Dunst fits into the latter category. She’s definitely beautiful and well groomed but this photo isn’t that interesting. Dunst’s lack of emotions in the eyes, whether intentional or not, is actually quite unnerving. There is something off about this photo and it might be that LaChapelle’s style extends to the feeling that the viewer gets while looking at it.




This photo is an example of one of LaChapelle’s more high-fashion shoots. His style suits this type of photography well because the clothes and model are lit nicely and look quite glossy. Also, LaChapelle manages to make the dress one of the focal points of the image. The colors of the hedges and the contrasting pathways play off each other nicely but don’t fully detract from the model and what she is wearing. In my opinion this is one of LaChapelle’s more visually interesting pictures.








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