David LaChapelle

by Chris Duesing

Concept photographer David LaChapelle is best known for his surreal, dramatic and often controversial images of celebrities. With a background in photography, fashion, advertising and fine arts, LaChapelle’s wildly imaginative and innovative style has made him one of the most famous entertainment and fashion photographers in the world.

LaChapelle’s Early Life

LaChapelle’s first photo was taken when he was just six years old. The photo was of his mother, Helga, taken during a family vacation in Puerto Vallarta. He photographed her standing on a balcony in a red bikini holding a martini glass. After this, LaChapelle became obsessed with photography.

Born in 1969 in Fairfield, Connecticut, he soon moved with his family to Raleigh, North Carolina. In Raleigh, LaChapelle attended the North Carolina School of Arts. At age 19, he eventually left Raleigh for New York, attending the Arts Student League and the School of Visual Arts in New York City.

LaChapelle’s Career Takes Off!

In New York, a chance encounter with Andy Warhol led to a job taking photographs for Interview magazine. This was his first professional job as a photographer and would lead to photo shoots with a long and colorful line of high-profile celebrities for such magazines as Arena, New York Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Vogue, The Face, The London Sunday Times and Vanity Fair.

LaChapelle’s photographs were also shown at a small gallery in New York City. After this, he was offered a job with Details magazine where he began creating concepts and staging intriguing and imaginative, larger-than-life photo shoots for celebrities.

Sought after for his surreal, fantasy-filled productions, LaChapelle often went over budget on his photo shoots. He often paid the difference.

The Famous Work of LaChapelle

LaChapelle is known for his controversial celebrity photography. In one shoot, he photographed Drew Barrymore, just divorced, posing scantily in a wedding dress. In another session, he shot a nearly naked Faye Dunaway gripping a shard of glass. From Elizabeth Taylor to Eminem, LaChapelle has photographed a range of celebrities, including:

LaChapelle published four books of his images, including:

LaChapelle’s Other Work

Also known for his computer manipulation and video technology work, he has directed music videos, stage performances and television commercials. In 2004, he directed Elton John’s The Red Piano show at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas, staging a spectacle of lights and video technology.

From 1994 through 2006, LaChapelle directed music videos for such artists as Mariah Carey, Moby, Christina Aguilera, No Doubt, Norah Jones and, once again, Elton John.

His work with television commercials has included a five-minute commercial for H&M and a Christmas commercial for UK retailer Boots Group.

LaChapelle’s Achievements

In 1995, LaChapelle was awarded “Best New Photographer of the Year” by French and Photo and American Photo magazine. One year later, he received the Photographer of the Year Award at the VH-1 Fashion Awards. In 2000, he won a Best Video award at the MTV Europe Music Awards for his work on Moby’s Natural Blues.

In 2003, at the 12th Annual Music Video Production Association Awards, he received the “Adult Contemporary Video of the Year” award for Elton John’s This Train Don’t Stop There Anymore. The next year at the same awards show, he received awards for “Director of the Year” and “Best Rock Video of The Year” for No Doubt’s It’s My Life.

David LaChapelle is ranked among the “top ten most important people in photography in the world” by American Photo Magazine.

Further Reading
Chris Duesing
Chris Duesing

I am a photographer, writer, entrepreneur, and programmer living in the great city of Chicago. I love to solve problems with technology and share what I have learned along the way.