Behind The Mastermind of David LaChapelle: Revisiting Some of LaChapelle's Most Controversial Work

Capturing the cult of the celebrity, photographer David LaChapelle has become renowned for his controversial portrayal of pop culture. Reimagining the world of the rich and famous, LaChapelle was recognized for his imaginative and descriptive photographs. Discovered by the one and only Andy Warhol, LaChapelle was destined to have a promising career ahead of him and sure did he deliver. Significant for the obsession of modern wealth, he embodied the cultural renaissance of a fascination of the figures of our times. In the late 90’s and the early 00’s, LaChapelle’s imagery was plastered all over the place. From Rolling Stone to Interview Magazine, to campaigns and album covers, he was the go-to photographer to birth a new life into any figure that became his muse. With the responsibility of capturing a different side of the celebrity that people weren’t familiarized with, David LaChapelle became a master storyteller, bringing the monstrosity of his mind to life with every photograph. The appeal to his framework of reimagining religion, sexuality, and violence was unlike commercial print had ever seen which left a lasting impression for years to come. Here are five of David LaChapelle’s most familiarized and controversial photographs.

Britney Spears, Rolling Stone 1999

At just 17 years old, Britney Spears graced the cover of Rolling Stone. As a teen phenomenon Spears’ quickly became the face of pop music in the transition into the 21st century.  Marking a departure to the innocence that most popstars are familiarized with, Britney Spears crafted the blueprint for the signature good girl gone bad tactic that is utilized in pop music. To help with the execution, Britney covered Rolling Stone in 1999 in a risqué shoot that was controversial for a teen pop star.

Eminem, Rolling Stone 1999 

For another Rolling Stone cover shoot, David LaChapelle worked with yet another cultural phenomenon. Dominating the charts with hit after hit while creating controversy with his visuals, Eminem was the perfect match for the mastermind of LaChapelle. This time around, Eminem was the subject of a shoot that was meant to blow, and it did. The menacing photos came across as distasteful for the general public, as it pushed the envelope for what the general public was accustomed to in print media.

Kanye West, Rolling Stone 2006

Seven years later, and yet another Rolling Stone cover. David LaChapelle was the face of reframing religious imagery in the 2000s. Experimenting with the sensitive subject matter of religion, LaChapelle was limitless to the possibilities to reimagining the passion of Christ. Doing so, the photographer shot Kanye West for the magazine in 2006. Portraying the rapper as Jesus, West was crowned in a crown of thorns. In a year that was tapped off with the controversy of the hit single “Jesus Walks”, the cover shoot was the tip of the iceberg.

“Michael Jackson”: American Jesus: Archangel Michael Jackson 2009 

A few months after the death of Michael Jackson, David LaChapelle staged a photoshoot with a MJ impersonator. At the LaChapelle estate in Hawaii, the photograph came about with the vision of the beloved popstar as a portrayal of an archangel. The powerful image was symbolic for various reasons which symbolized the rise and fall of the celebrity that was Michael Jackson. Years later, and the photo is notable for the illusion of the impostor and the hidden message behind the photo.

Travis Scott, ASTROWORLD 2018


The freaks and geeks come out at night, and they came to visit Astroworld. Thrilling and adventurous is the typical way to define the experience at an amusement park, but Travis Scott had a different vision. Though it’s all fun and games during day, it’s a freakshow at night, and David LaChapelle captured the significance between the light and the dark of what really happens at Astroworld. LaChapelle created two covers to help bring Astroworld to life, all completed with a lifelike statue that was placed all over the world. Shortly after the cover became a trending topic not only for the stunning imagery but due to the sudden absence of transgender model Amanda Lepore who was the muse of the photographer for years. The model took to social media and shared the original cover of the cover of which she starred in, and to express disappointment with how both artists chose to move forward with the final cover. All parties moved forward after the rapper and the photographer apologized for the controversy.

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