The Groningen Report
The Groninger Museum in the Netherlands honors the American photographer, director, designer, filmmaker and visionary David LaChapelle with a large survey exhibition of more than 70 impressive works that illuminate the many fields of his impressive oeuvre – from portraits to still lifes, landscapes and tableaux. In addition, the Groninger Museum shows LaChapelle’s latest series, New World , in which he tries to capture the unphotographical in search of paradise.
David LaChapelle , born in Connecticut in 1963, was interested in photography from an early age. At the age of 15 he met famous artists such as Richard Avedon and Keith Haring during a New York trip . At the age of 19, he moved to New York and began studying at the School of Visual Arts, and two years later he was able to inspire Andy Warhol with his first photo exhibition. He was the last photographer to record a professional Warhol portrait in 1986, just a year before Warhol ‘ s death in February 1987.
LaChapelle ‘s career began in the early’ 80s with a first job on Andy Warhol ‘s own magazine interview , which personally gave him this job. With his new way of photographing, he was quickly celebrated by the international press and became one of the most influential photographers in the world. His spectacular, colorful and often controversial portraits of celebrities became archetypal symbols of the time. He was literally besieged by many stars who wanted to be photographed by him, which ultimately became too much for him.
” Of all the photographers who create surreal images … LaChapelle has what it takes to become the Magritte of his guild.” Richard Avedon, New York Times (1997)
Known, popular and feared is the 55-year-old photographer for his extravagant and imaginative productions in his works. Extremely colorful, very stylish almost crazy and shrill could be the motto of his work. While his colleagues devoted themselves to black and white photography, LaChapelle bathed in all the colors of the world! The New York magazine therefore also called him the Fellini of photography, but he was and is much more than that.
” LaChapelle mixes spirituality and sensuality and captures, with a colorful patina, the feel of the Renaissance figurative groups of a Michelangelo s.” Corriere della Sera (2017)
For Avril Lavigne he made the music video “I’m with you” and made them world famous. Michael Jackson was a close friend and Andy Warhol was his mentor. He worked and accompanied Madonna in her “Ray of Light” years as well as Tupac Shakur , Leonardo DiCaprio , Hillary Clinton , Lady Gaga , Marilyn Manson , Jeff Koons , Kim Kardashian , Beyonce, Amy Winehouse , Paris Hilton , Bjork , Rose McGowan , David Beckham, Muhammad Ali and Kanye West.
David LaChapelle ‘s work is not unknown to many of us, as his artworks are part of our vast all-consuming everyday consumption. In magazines like VOGUE, on posters, on television, in the ingenious early TV channel MTV and wherever the power of advertising inspires our senses, his works are alive. In 1995, he photographed two kissing sailors for Italian lifestyle brand DIESEL , one of the first large-budget advertising campaigns to feature a gay couple. In 2017, he staged and photographed the DIESEL -SS17 campaign “Make Love Not Walls”, which aims at Trump’s planned wall between the US and Mexico and the social dividing lines. These THISL founder Renzo Rosso : “We need the courage to break barriers at a moment when fear is dividing the world by more walls.”
His music videos by Robbie Williams , Norah Jones , Britney Spears , Jennifer Lopez , Amy Winehouse , No Doubt , Avril Lavigne , Moby , Elton John , Florence + the Machine, Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey, etc. inspire people all over the world.
” LaChapelle’s amazing sense of detail extends the scope and scope of what celebrity photography can be. He elevated it to an art form that has since been imitated endlessly. ” The Guardian (2017)
After a long and hard time working for commercial magazines (eg VOGUE, FACE) he turned to life in Hawaii and started working as a farmer with animals and plants. But after a break of about 10 years, he noticed that he still had a lot of pictures that he wanted to carry into the world. A call from a gallery in Berlin then completely changed his CV: he became a celebrated modern artist and his works have since been shown in galleries and museums all over the world.
His works have included exhibitions at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Palazzo Reale (Milan), MOCA Taipei, Museo de La Monnaie de Paris, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Ara Modern Art Museum (Seoul) and the Museo Casa dei Tre Oci (Berlinale 2017 in Venice).
In 2017 TASCHEN published LaChapelle ‘s most comprehensive book project to date. The illustrated books Lost + Found , Part 1 and Good News , Part 2 mark the last volumes of a 5-part anthology that began with LaChapelle Land (1996) and continued with Hotel LaChapelle (1999) and Heaven to Hell (2006).
The year 2018 will show exhibitions by the artist in Belgium, the Netherlands (Groningen), London, Cologne, Shanghai and Paris.
” LaChapelle will undoubtedly influence the photography of a new generation … just as Avedon was a pioneer in many ways, something we take for granted today.” The New York Times (1997)
A key element of the monumental exhibition Good News For Modern Man in Groningen is the series The Deluge , which marks the beginning of La Renaissance’s own renaissance for LaChapelle. After a visit to the Sistine Chapel in 2006, the artist turned away from commissioned work and returned to the mediation of his own intuitive conceptions. The 7 meter wide front cover of the series The Deluge transports Michelangelo’s ceiling fresco into our time.
Another highlight of the exhibition is Earth Laughs in Flowers (2008-2011), a series that combines the vanitas theme with modern consumerism. The series Gas Stations and Land Scape (2013) question the adverse effects of the industry on nature.
Also on display is LaChapelle’s latest series, New World (2006-2017), which returns to his own form of analogue photography. The New Yorker describes the latest works as “… pushing to the utopian, exchanging the more worldly conspiracies for something sacred”.
The LaChapelle: Good News For Modern Man exhibition has been on display at the Groninger Museum from April 21st to October 28th, 2018.
The opening hours can be viewed here: http://www.groningermuseum.nl/en/opening hours
During the press conference for the exhibition in Groningen, I had the opportunity to talk to David LaChapelle in person.
Bernd Ihno Hurry up : Your work is very inspiring, but also your life, in the past as well as today. What tips do you give young artists, students and photographers?
David LaChapelle : An artist’s life is nothing like the life of a lawyer. A young student who wants to become a lawyer usually has a good school diploma, will then study and lead the life of a lawyer. The life of an artist is one without a road map. I never planned my life. Just a few years ago, I moved to Hawaii and never even remotely thought that a gallery would call me and ask me to exhibit my work. I’ve always worked only for commercial magazines and never had any plans to change that.
Of course I have experienced fantastic things during this time, but my work has never been motivated by money. Still, it was time for me to move on and leave the magazine world behind. I only listened to my inner voice and followed my intuition. It’s amazing how to trust your own voice as an artist and then see that this step turns out to be the greatest blessing. A gallery in Berlin called me and from that time began my life as an artist, as I am today. However, it is important for me to repeat this: I have never planned this step. It’s important for me to listen to my own GPS system, my inner guidance. But you can not hear that voice when you’re too busy. If you spend all the time with your phone, with the social media like Facebook and Instagram, if you spend a lot of time looking at a lot of information, emailing and phoning. Then it’s almost impossible to hear his own voice. How can one listen to one’s own guidance with all the distraction?
I trust my intuition, even though it is often a very gentle voice that opens up to me. Sometimes it is just a feeling, but it is necessary to listen to that feeling. Because then you can see exactly what’s right, what’s good, what’s wrong and what certainly does not work. As an artist you have to follow your own voice, this is crucial. I have made decisions that were very logical, but based only on a feeling. And it told me things like, It’s time to stop working for magazines now. But can you explain this to the world so easily?
This happened just a few years ago and today I am a farmer in Hawaii, trying to live my new life in this way. I came from commercial work with glossy magazines and became a visual artist. My advice for young artists is: Eliminate all that shit! Go into nature, there you can develop and there you can ask the questions that really concern you. And then wait for the answers. Nevertheless, you need a lot of time for yourself, you need loneliness, which is important for your own balance. And you need rest. When you surround yourself with sounds all the time, you never have the chance to hear your intuition and follow your inspiration and guidance that can change your life. It’s just too much
Bernd Ihno Eilts : Which music inspires you in these days?
David LaChapelle : Stevie Wonder ‘s “Songs In The Key Of Life”. That was and still is a very important recording for me (laughs).
Bernd Ihno Eilts : You moved from New York to Los Angeles and Hawaii. What inspires you most about life in Hawaii?
David LaChapelle : I love the forests there, I like swimming in the ocean, I enjoy the clean beaches, the clean water and the clean air.
Bernd Ihno Eilts : What is of course a big difference to life on the American mainland?
David LaChapelle : Yes, it’s a big difference. I live in a secluded part of the island, with landscapes reminiscent of deserts and a very beautiful jungle.
Bernd Ihno Eilts : You have photographed many famous contemporaries, such as David Bowie , Michael Jackson and Madonna , just to name a few. Did this work change you?
David LaChapelle : No, not at all. This happened mainly at a time when I was younger. But even today I continue this work. I photograph people and much of what I encounter when traveling.
Bernd Ihno Eilts : Do you also photograph normal unknown people?
David LaChapelle : Yes, of course. Many of these people can also be seen in this exhibition of my work here in Groningen.
Bernd Ihno Eilts : Can you tell me what the magic of your work is for you?
David LaChapelle : I like it when people feel connected to my work, to my photos. If it touches her, as music can. It’s the magic of art to communicate with someone without words, without any other tools, just by seeing something that touches you. That touches the viewing of an artistic work. That fascinates me.
Bernd Ihno Hurry up: Are you working with a big team?
David LaChapelle : Sometimes.
Bernd Ihno Eilts : Can you tell me how you compose your work?
David LaChapelle : I compose with simple designs and things, but I never really think about it.
Bernd Ihno Hurry up : I would like to return to your answer to my first question. You said, among other things, that your tip for young artists is to seek solitude as well. Are you yourself a spiritual person?
David LaChapelle : Yes, that’s me.
Bernd Ihno Eilts : Could you please explain that? What does it mean for you in everyday life?
David LaChapelle : It just has a big meaning for everything in life. For me it means not drowning in materialism. And also to remember the ancient techniques that can remind us of the truth of life, which also means being truly anchored in life.
And to be as human as possible. We are all connected, we are a big organism, we are all one. I live with forgiveness and I understand that there is more in this world than material things.
Bernd Ihno Eilts : Could you imagine making a portrait of Donald Trump if he asked you to?
David LaChapelle : I do not think so. Of course, I can not see what will happen in the future, but I do not think that will ever happen. It just does not make sense either. I am interested in other types of portraits.
Bernd Ihno Eilts : In a previous interview, you said that “we humans have certainly progressed within our capabilities, but that we have not developed morally and spiritually since ancient times.” Can you explain this please?
David LaChapelle : Well, I mean, if we look at all the entertainment of the day, all the horror movies and thrillers with their many scenes of violence and torture and that many people enjoy it, it’s very similar to life in ancient Rome ! They said the gods created the war and the beauty and we are all still dealing with the same thoughts these days. In addition, I see the teachings of Buddha as very important, even if they mean nothing to many people.
Bernd Ihno Eilts : Generally speaking, what is your message today?
David LaChapelle : Quite simply, I like to touch people through photography and music.
Bernd Ihno Eilts : Do you think that it is dangerous to show naked bodies?
David LaChapelle : I think some people have emotional problems and inhibitions when they see naked bodies. But our large entertainment industry takes many bodies and even bluntly shows them in torture scenes, such as in horror movies or in video games. Nobody has a problem with that. But when they see naked bodies in photography, many people can not handle it at all. They even consider “nude art” (nude photography) as pornography.
Bernd Ihno Eilts : It is also very interesting to see that there are hardly any people in our public life who kiss each other unabashedly.
David LaChapelle : Well, you can see that in Latin America and in Cuba and in Rome in Italy. But I agree with you, in Europe and the United States of America, this tendency is decreasing.
Bernd Ihno Eilts : Is not this a kind of hypocrisy that excludes a natural human gesture from public space?
David LaChapelle : Most internet downloads are testimony to hypocrisy, as there are still huge problems these days in showing a naked body in its most natural way in a gallery.
But looking at all those terrible horror movies and video games that surround us everywhere, it’s particularly clear to me that we’ve arrived in a new dark age. And this is a gigantic hypocrisy. Of course, there are exceptions when a body remains covered. The artists of the Renaissance showed a great many imposing naked bodies in their works, which was a huge step at that time. They tried to cover many bodies, but only managed to about 20 percent. It’s different nowadays. Today, we have a lot of people who love pornography but have a lot of trouble seeing a naked body. But when a woman is shown tied up, it is okay for many people. There are an infinite number of tortures these days. Torture and violence are known to be tools even today in all kinds of wars and warlike and aggressive conflicts, even in our time. We talk a lot about it and show these pictures in public in our media. Humans are the only species that enjoys watching torture, even the kind of torture that ends in death. How many types of these representations exist in the entertainment industry, which we bluntly refer to as entertainment? All these TV shows that we see during the evening programs are based on some reality or invented. We are flooded with it. We are in this dark age and it is a big hypocrisy! My clients love to see beauty that proves God exists. Beauty is the only evidence that God exists. These last thoughts describe the idea of beauty.
Bernd Ihno Hurry up : In your way of working you also try to take pictures, which is actually impossible to photograph?
David LaChapelle : Yes, that’s right. In my work moments of transcendence often arise. When I was young, I often dealt with figures with wings. I tried to photograph metaphysical ideas that were and are not necessarily captured by a medium like photography.
Bernd Ihno Eilts : Thank you very much for the interview!
David LaChapelle : You’re welcome! Photography is really a big miracle!
Bernd Ihno Eilts : How long have you been in Groningen?
David LaChapelle : One week!
Bernd Ihno Eilts : Do you enjoy cycling here?
David LaChapelle : Yes, very!
Bernd Ihno Eilts : Also in Hawaii?
David LaChapelle : No, I’m not cycling in Hawaii. The roads and corners are not really good for cycling. But I love swimming there (laughs)!
The conversation was conducted in English.
All photos in this post: Zoltan Acs .
Music video’s by David LaChapelle, a small selection!