David LaChapelle explains why he left the ritzy magazines for a farm on Maui
Last Saturday, the Bangkok party people were mesmerised by the conceptual dance party Midnight Circus, with live music and DJs sets and a massive inflatable sculpture by renowned photographer David LaChapelle who also graced the party.
Central World Live at Central World Plaza was transformed into a massive dancefloor as Smirnoff rolled in a midnight circus with cutting-edge electronic music to treat the crowd. The centrepiece, created by LaChapelle, rendered a modern and universal concept of global gathering with circus flair with a walk-through, two-headed balloon, one face a modern club kid and the other a tribal woman from Africa’s Masai tribe. And together they danced. Everyone became one with the beats of music.
The 49-year-old surrealist photographer talked to us about his obsessions with metaphysics, his rebirth and the importance of dance.
How has life treated you so far?
A lot of the photography I was doing for the last 15 years had to do with social issues, what’s going on in the world, the idea that we’re on this precipice globally in so many different areas. It’s an auspicious time to be alive.
Up till 2006 I tried to express those ideas in fashion and celebrity magazines, and it got more and more difficult, so I quit. I walked away from the photography world, moved to Maui and started a farm where I live today. And then I started do shows for museums and galleries.
When I walked away I never thought I would have this revival period where I did series for galleries and museums. It’s a rebirth in my life. It’s like coming back full circle, because that’s what I did when I was very young in New York City. I also do pictures for fun, projects, commercials and collaborations with other companies – like this project.
How do you like it?
If I have time, and it’s the right project, I love to do these little projects in between series that take years to put together. It keeps things fresh, and keeps my feet in the real world at the same time. I also get to talk to the press about it, get into the flow.
Do you enjoy the age of digital photography?
I started in analogue, and now I’m working both in digital and analogue. It’s two means to the same end. I like really big pictures, which a lot of times you can’t tell if it’s analogue or digital as long as you know your technique and how to utilise it.
I think digital is more economical and better for the environment, as you do it electronically instead of using the paper and the chemicals. I like them both, actually.
Are you still interested in metaphysical subjects?
I still see the same themes when I was 18 years old that I’m still obsessed with, such as metaphysical ideas and life after death. Is there a soul? I still ask that in my photographs.
I’m still interested in the magical, the fantasy, fantastical realm of imagination, in the unconscious and the metaphysical, spiritual ideas. Those are still the same themes that get repeated in my work.
What about dance and party?
Some people might think it’s just a stupid party. It’s superficial. But it’s not. It’s something that human beings have been doing forever. They came together and danced since they discovered the drums. Then we make music and dance to it. No matter how dark and confusing our lives are or the world is, we get together and dance. That’s how we forget about it. It’s like a tribal community.
Ravi Shankar, the famous sitar player, said that when he makes music, there’s peace in the room. There’s unity. And when the music stops, everything goes back to normal, to chaos again. It brings people together.
You can see it as a superficial thing, but I don’t see it that way. It’s an important part of human beings’ experience. At that moment when we’re dancing we don’t have any problems, any bills, no global warming – just dancing. Humans always have issues to deal with at any age.
It seems maybe this age, because it’s the age of information, there’s much more coming at us that gives us anxiety. The need to dance, to release this anxiety is more important now than ever.