Monday, January 21, 2013

Hurting the eyes, and stirring the heart


It's time for another Aussie Nails Monday, and given that this week's theme is "Skittles" (a manicure made up of different designs on every nail) I thought I would take this opportunity to pay tribute to one of my favourite photographers - David LaChapelle.

When I say the name, people always look at me blankly, but I would be shocked if anyone truly didn't recognise ANY of his photos from the last couple of decades. He's shot some of the most iconic images of people like Britney Spears and Angeline Jolie, and has such a distinctive visual style Rhianna blatantly ripped him off for her S'n'M filmclip (and consequently got sued). 

LaChapelle has the world's biggest hard-on for Barbie pink, but the thing I really love about his work is the way he uses photography to examine the grey, nebulous area between sexy and grotesque. The idea of "sexy" is often portrayed as so solid, and straightfoward, and easy to quantify, and the way he pushes the boundaries of sexy to ridiculous and uncomfortable places shows just how mushy an idea it really is.I find artists who play with this idea endlessly fascinating, and to the best of my knowledge Lachapelle was the first to go quite so far in terms of exploring how celebrity, sexy, and the grotesque all work together.

For someone who's work can be so eyeball burningly over the top, I'm also really fascinated by how subtle LaChapelle can be as well, especially in terms of slipping just a touch of uncomfortability under the viewer's skin. I saw an exhibition of his at the Barbican Gallery in London, and was standing enthralled in front of a huge portrait of Lil' Kim. She was in a typical LaChapelle type bedroom set - bright pink walls, ridiculous over the top bed draped with bright white lace that matched the lingerie she was wearing. The friend I went with came up behind me and started saying something like, "Man, this guy sure likes pink..." but suddebnly let out a strangled little squeak noise and physically jumped back. I turned around wondering what the hell his problem was, and he stammered, "There's blood...on her panties...that's the grossest thing I've ever seen..." before staggering away white faced. I looked back and realised there was in fact the tiniest spot of blood on her panties, right over her crotch, just where it would be if a tampon leaked. *I* thought this was a hilarious, clever subversion of a typical "sexy" stereotype, but my friend didn't think it was very funny at all sadly.

These are the photos I used as direct inspiration for this manicure - they're some of his older work, and a bit more restrained than the pictures he's more famous for. I figured I had to think of a design that was actually capable of fitting on my nails! I took inspiration for the background from his iconic garish pink room sets, and then tried to work in an element from each photo I chose.

A Waitress
Big Consumption
Death By Hamburger, 2001
Hopefully you can at least see what I was trying to get at here.

Get it? I used a camera cause he's a photographer...heh heh

I even did the other hand as well!

This was a really challenging design to do - not so much in terms of actual skill, but it terms of having it on for more than the ten minutes it took to take the photos. I am just not a pink person, at all, so I was weirded out to be putting Barbie pink on my nails at all. But when the one I'd chosen happened to dry to a waxy, plastic finish, I started flailing around the house whimpering about being a damn Barbie doll. My Boy very wisely observed that it would hardly be a fitting tribute to LaChapelle if it didn't make me uncomfortable - which just goes to show he DOES actually listen when I go off on my fangirly rants.

As a long time fan, I'm always fascinated to see the ripples of LaChapelle's work in wider popular culture. Apart from the endless list of celebrities who have benefited from doing an "arty" shoot with LaChapelle, his influence on popular music is very easy to see. Rhianna just straight up ripped him off, Nicki Minaj is undoubtably a fan, and Lady GaGa's career has been built on a similar exploration of the intersection of sexy and grotesque. Whether it was deliberate or not, I think her clip for Telephone was a wonderful homage to his style, and his interest in re-examining standard sexy stereotypes - particularly the opening, where she takes the women's prison exploitation tradition so far that the ridiculousness of this sort of fetishisation becomes impossible to ignore.

Do you have suggestions of other artists you think have been influenced by this awesome photographer?

Don't forget to check out the other members of this awesome weekly challenge!

Elissa - Lissa’s Polish Addiction Bec - Nail Gun XS Marie - Marie’s Manicure Madhouse Sarah - Shatter Me Claire Chantelle - A Polished Prance Teneil -Shades of Phoenix Nicole - The Epitome of Superficiality Bec - Lacquer Dreams Naomi - NananaisNails Eboni - Enamoured With Enamel
Adelle - Adelle1985 (Instagram) Kelly - Kelly's Kolors Rebecca - Polished Peripherals Rosemarie - Every Little Polish Melissa - Mel My Issta Natalie - Walk In My Eyeshadow Jennifer - JennLojko (Instagram) Erin - Erinzi’s Nails Astrid - Lovessweetas (Instagram) Jasmyn - Jas’ Blingtastic Nails
Kate - Mckfresh (Instagram) Jessica - Maedaynails (instagram) Elizabeth - Lili_Bete (Instagram)
Tammy - Jibber Jabber Julia - Messy Mansion Ann - Nailovelogy Theresa It's All About The Polish
Katie - Pretty Polish Please


  1. Wow awesome! He took some great shots of Madonna during her Ray of Light era.

    1. He really really did. His work more or less defined her image for that period. Apparently they ran into some massive personality clashes though, and he refuses to work with her anymore.

  2. This is eye-popping awesome! Very creative Cassie!

  3. Wow, I love it!! Fantastic inspiration. I'd obviously seen some of LaChapelle's work before but wasn't actually aware of who he was. I'm now having an online browse of some of his stuff, and I found the photo of Lil' Kim, very cool in a disturbing way!

    1. Where did you find the Lil'Kim picture online? I looked quickly, but couldn't dig it up. Being someone who makes his money off his photography, it can be difficult to find a lot of LaChapelle's pieces online.
      "very cool in a disturbing way" - this pretty much sums up this photographer for me :)


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