Between the sacred and the profane: the excessive art of David LaChapelle

Many call him “The Fellini of Photography” for his dreamlike representations of reality, his unique and eccentric style have made him a world-renowned artist and one of the most important photographers of our century.

Who is David LaChapelle?

David LaChapelle was born in Fairfield (Connecticut, USA) on March 11, 1963.
After attending the North Carolina School of Arts, he moved to New York where he enrolled in the Art Students League and the School of Visual Arts.

In the early ’80s, thanks to his extraordinary talent, LaChapelle began to exhibit his artworks in the galleries of New York, even succeeding in attracting the attention of Andy Warhol. It was the King of Pop Art who offered the young LaChapelle his first professional photo job for the magazine Interview Magazine.

Soon LaChapelle started working for prestigious magazines – like Vanity Fair – that open the door to the glittery and glossy world of fashion and advertising.

David LaChapelle during his exhibition “After the Deluge” at Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome, 2015, Photo credit: Gabriel Bouys.

Between celebrities and star system

Working in the world of fashion and the star system allows LaChapelle to use the icons of fashion and entertainment as raw material for its art. In this period his creativity explodes: electric colors, lacquered surfaces, bright worlds, hyper-realistic, cheeky sometimes excessive and perhaps a bit kitsch are his signature.

His eccentric way of combining an original hyper-realistic aesthetic with profound social messages make his photographs the perfect creations to communicate contemporary obsessions, the relationship with pleasure, with well-being, with the superfluous and with an exaggerated need to appear.

The collection that best reflects this concept is titled Hotel LaChapelle (1998), one of the best-selling photo books of all time, which contains several shots depicting celebrities such as Michael Jackson, Elton John, Muhammad Ali, Madonna, David Bowie and also his inspiring muses: Courtney Love and the transsexual Amanda Lepore.

Elton John photographed by David LaChapelle, ©David LaChapelle.

The inspiration at the Sistine Chapel

The turning point that marks its artistic evolution is the trip to Rome in 2006.
On this occasion, the photographer visits the Sistine Chapel, remaining completely struck by the frescoes by Michelangelo and by the glories of religious power.

This breakthrough pushes David LaChapelle to fuse together the glamorous iconography with universal themes. The transgressive subjects that he chooses, sometimes make discuss because they are the revisiting of sacred themes such as the nativity, the deluge or the resurrection.

It was precisely The Deluge by Michelangelo to suggest the creation of  the series The Deluge, a photographic work where the references to the masterpiece by Michelangelo are mixed with the brands of consumer society and the ostentatious beauty of naked bodies.

From now on, David LaChapelle decides to leave the fashion world to devote himself entirely to art. Even if he moves away from purely commercial and advertising fields, the now ex-fashion photographer doesn’t give up his own advertising aesthetic, now translated into a means of deep investigation of reality.

A part of the artwork “The Deluge” by David LaChapelle, 2006, ©David LaChapelle.


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