David LaChapelle’s surrealist lens captures his view of beauty, nature

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David LaChapelle’s surrealist lens captures his view of beauty, nature


David LaChapelle, a successful American fine-art photographer, who also has more than 20 years experience working in commercial photography, brings his exhibition to Seoul. The exhibition displays everything there is to show from LaChapelle including “Showtime at the Apocalypse” (2013), above. [ARA MODERN ART MUSEUM]

Some may have dropped their jaws in shock after seeing some of photographer David LaChapelle’s works that recently arrived in Seoul on Nov. 19 for an almost three-month exhibition at the ARA Modern Art Museum in Insa-dong, central Seoul. Many of LaChapelle’s works show naked bodies, often in provocative forms. For this exhibition, there’s even one floor restricted to adults only, which was a compromise the photographer had to make to display all his works.

“Human bodies became so shameful to people that you have to have a part of a museum blocked out for children because there’s nudity,” said LaChapelle. “But the same child can play a video game and shoot people’s heads off and decapitate people. What does this say about ourselves in this global culture?”

LaChapelle says, for him, human bodies are his “perspective of beauty.”

“During Michaelangelo’s time, it was okay to see a naked figure, even at a church. His idea was that the proof of God is beauty of men,” said the photographer.

“Since I was very young, I always questioned the nature of life and wondered if there’s more to this planet than just this,” said LaChapelle. “So I imagined the world, or the Garden of Eden, where there’s this figures of nature and the ultimate beauty. It took me a while to work out how to photograph this.”

The Seoul exhibition titled “Inscape of Beauty” is LaChapelle’s third exhibition in Korea, following his first at the Seoul Arts Center in 2011 and in Busan the following year. However, Choi Yo-han, who directed LaChapelle’s exhibition, says it will be the first time local visitors will see “everything from LaChapelle.”

“In 2011 when LaChapelle’s exhibition came to Seoul for the first time, we couldn’t really show Koreans everything,” said Choi. “Back then, there was this big dispute on the distinction between art and pornography so many of his works couldn’t be displayed. Now, we basically brought nearly everything there is to show from LaChapelle.”

There are about 180 works on display at the exhibition, but not all of Lachapelle’s works feature nudity.

By “documenting the world we are living in as clear and true as possible,” LaChapelle says he wants people to look at the world without prejudice and learn to accept things as they are.

“When I was a child and walked past refineries, and I remember thinking they look to me like a magical city, like the Emerald City in the Wizard of Oz. Then when I grew up, I heard bad things about it, but is it really bad? All these things we see here, nothing would’ve been possible without fossil fuels. But certainly, they do cause pollution,” said LaChapelle. “So my idea is, never to see things black and white, or good or bad. But look at things as they are.”

It may seem like LaChapelle has become successful quickly after his debut, but the photographer spent 20 something years in commercial photography, starting from taking pictures of anything, including weddings, “just to survive.”

A few years later, LaChapelle was discovered by the late pop artist Andy Warhol, who offered him a position working as a photographer at Interview Magazine. He then went on to work for other leading magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Rolling Stone, where he worked with big name celebrities like Michael Jackson, Lady Gaga, Leonardo DiCaprio and others.

“Being a high school dropout, my college was working in magazines,” said LaChapelle. “But after 20 something years of working nonstop, flying around the world and doing fashion and celebrities, it kind of blurred me … Then about 13 years ago, my intuition told me that it was time to stop.”

Although others told him not to give up such a successful career, LaChapelle said he just gave up photography and went to Hawaii to farm.

“I thought I was done with photography,” he recalled. But shortly after, an opportunity came from a German gallery, asking him to hold an exhibition of his works.

“I listened to my inner GPS and look where it led me to,” he said. “I now have much more balance in my life and I spend much more time on each photograph than when I worked for magazines. And since I’m here, I want to do pictures today that can move people like music touches people.”

BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [sharon@joongang.co.kr]

*LaChapelle’s “Inscape of Beauty,” which is divided into four sections - Pop, Rebirth of Venus, Desire and Deluge/Still Life - runs until Feb. 26 at the ARA Modern Art Museum. Tickets are 12,000 won for adults, 10,000 won for college students and 8,000 won for students. The museum opens at 10 a.m. and closes at 7 p.m. on weekdays and Sundays and at 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. For more information, visit www.aramuseum.org.

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