The renowned US photographer David LaChapelle, who has worked in several genres of the medium but has focused on its more artistic form in recent years, was the author of a recent exhibition called Lost and Found at the Bratislava City Gallery (GMB). Starting on September 14 and continuing, after it had been extended due to high visitor numbers, until November 16, it also formed part of the annual Month of Photography festival. With 17,595 recorded visitors, it ranks among the most popular exhibitions ever hosted by the GMB.
On October 16, while the exhibition was still showing, LaChapelle himself visited the Slovak capital to give a lecture and take part in a discussion, party of the Clubovka series, in the Meteorit Theatre. He talked about both his personal life and his artistic development which, in his case, are closely connected. “You often don’t have time to stop and reflect, and although I felt I was in a dead-end street, it took me three years before I stopped working for fashion magazines,” he said. “I bought a farm in Maui in Hawaii and became a farmer. And although it is clear now that to be a farmer is not my calling, connecting with nature can help you connect with humanity and with yourself. After some time, a friend took me to some museums and galleries and when he asked me to make photos for them, I gradually went back to work and now I divide my time between New York and Hawaii”.
He started taking black-and-white photographs and later achieved commercial success, composing sophisticated images for international magazines, but his global career ended when he decided, about six years ago, that instead of working for magazines he would work directly for galleries and museums. He confessed that much of his work in the 1980s was influenced by his conviction that he had AIDS and faced imminent death. After the disease spread among his colleagues, friends and acquaintances, he refused to undergo a test and lived for 15 years, between the age of 18 and 33, with the threat of AIDS-related death hanging over him. “This idea urged me to work more and more, to try to find new ways to express myself and make nice pictures that would intrigue the audience. I lived and worked as if on borrowed time, as if I could die any minute. A lot of my pictures from that time were asking metaphysical questions about spirit, soul, what happens to us when we die,” he commented. Eventually he decided to let himself be tested and learned that he did not have AIDS.
Technically, he experimented a lot with photography – painting on the negative, for example. Then he got a job at Andy Warhol’s “Interview” magazine. The series of ‘negative’ banknotes that dates back to this period was exhibited at the exhibition in Bratislava’s Pálffy Palace. “It was not made digitally,” LaChapelle explained. “One day in 1991 I just put a dollar banknote in an enlarger in an analogue darkroom, printed it, and it came out negative. Then, in 2006, I found this old experiment and thought – this is the right time to make them.”
The artist was a friend of Warhol himself. “Warhol gave me one piece of advice: ‘Do whatever you want; just make everyone look good.’ He knew the power of beauty and how people want to look well – and that it is just a part of being human,” LaChapelle recalled. He also explained the series of home-made photos from family celebrations and parties, always showing heavy drinking, and mocking – in their unobtrusive but obvious way – the ‘American way of life’.
“One photo from the series What Will You Wear When You’re Dead that I made for fashion magazines - and my idea was to portray various kinds of deaths – was in the GMB and is called Random Accident. The series showed that we concentrate rather on what we wear than on what is happening in the world – and it seems that the only important thing is what we look like,” LaChapelle said. Apart from stylised pictures of celebrities – some of which were also exhibited in Bratislava and portrayed, for example, Michael Jackson as the Archangel Michael, or Courtney Love as the Madonna – he also made pictures that showed, he said, “that the Earth has been diagnosed with cancer.” He added: “This means that we have all been diagnosed with cancer, and we should live our lives differently; like people who were really diagnosed with cancer do – both in the sense of taking more care of themselves and using their time better, enjoying every minute. My picture The Rape of Gaia (Mother Earth) shows this and expresses that this is what we should start doing: taking more care of ourselves and of her.”
28. Nov 2011 at 0:00 | Zuzana Vilikovská