If you watched music videos or ready any celebrity-obsessed magazines in the ’90s and early 2000s, you saw David LaChapelle’s colorful and whimsical work. He was the go-to photographer for the stars, eventually becoming a celebrity in his own right.
LaChapelle stepped out of the spotlight for the past decade, but now he’s back with two new collections of his work, Lost + Found, Part I and Good News, Part II, the final two books in a five-part anthology.
NewNowNext caught up with LaChapelle to ask him about the new collections, what it was like directing the RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 3 trailer and what advice he has for young artists starting out today.
You shot the new promo for All Stars Season 3? How was it working with those golden goddesses?
It was a lot of fun. I’ve known RuPaul since the ’80s when she was on roller skates at the Pyramid Club.
Are you a Drag Race fan?
I don’t watch a lot of television, but I busted my Achilles tendon last year so I was able to catch up on a lot of TV when I did that. It’s a really funny show.
Was there a certain queen you were excited to work with?
I thought all of the queens were super funny. It was definitely a good time.
Drag race is such a colorful show, it seems like it fits right into your world.
Yeah, the fans are really excited.
Tell us about new books, Lost + Found, Part I and Good News, Part II.
These are the last two in this anthology [which began with 1996’s LaChapelle Land]. These are the fourth and fifth, the last in that series. I really see a completion in the narrative. These books read like a manuscript, even though there are no words, these pictures are in order and they tell stories.
Did you always envision it as five installments?
I thought it was going to be three parts and the last ten years were a complete surprise, because I left working for magazines 11 years ago and moved to Hawaii. I didn’t really plan any of it, so it was a great surprise to have this last decade of shooting, which I didn’t think was going to happen at one point.
It was the most intense project I’ve ever worked on. I feel like this is an illuminated manuscript for the times we’re in. I think it’s the best work I’ve ever done.
Is it true Lady Gaga had a role in your return to working with celebrities?
She brought me back into shooting celebrities. One week I saw her perform at this tiny club in LA and she just ripped the roof off of it, she was just starting out. Then she came to Maui and we became friends and she wanted me to do her first Rolling Stone cover. Which I did. At that point I decided I didn’t want to have any rules. I think it keeps a lot of variety in my life.
The books are dedicated to Stevie Wonder, Miley Cyrus is on one of the covers, and you talked about Gaga. Are you heavily influenced by music?
Stevie represents all of the arts that inspire me. Really the most intimate connection you can have with an artist is listening to their music. You get a closer relationship with them than you would being their lover. They’re really doing it for the audience, for the listener.
What musicians you are listening to right now?
I listen to a lot of stuff. I’m loving Chance the Rapper. I always have Miley’s Backyard Sessions close by. At the signings I have a playlist that we just blast so the signings are kind of like parties with all of my favorite music going on.
The Drag Race trailer just premiered and your new books were just released, but what are you planning next?
The last thing we did was Elton John’s farewell tour photos for the last tour he’s going to do. I’m really happy with them. They look like ’70s album covers. That was a couple of weeks ago. I don’t really know what’s next. It’s really great to meet people who have collected the books. What’s interesting is that people aren’t really interested in the celebrity aspect anymore, they are interested in the photography.
RuPaul has tweeted a quote of yours: “I shoot fantasy. If you want reality, ride the bus.” Do you still believe that?
What I mean by that is, just go outside. Be in the world. I like to set these scenarios up that are very composed and have a concept behind them, a message to connect with people. It’s just been a really interesting ride, the whole thing.
Andy Warhol gave you a break when you went to work at Interview in the ’80s. What advice would you give to photographers starting out today?
I give a lot of lectures at schools, and one of the things I talk about is, as an artist you don’t really know what path your life is going to take. A lot of it is very intuitive. Inside, you already know the answer. Never give up on your dream, but sometimes you have to alter it.
Lost + Found, Part I and Good News, Part II are available now. LaChapelle will be signing copies at the Taschen store in New York on December 14 and on December 17 in Beverly Hills.
RuPaul’s Drag Race All Stars Season 3 premieres Thursday, January 25 at 8/7c on VH1.