Sunday's Photography Book Review: David LaChapelle "Heaven to Hell"

Updated: Dec 8, 2019

This Sunday I decided to pick from my amazing bookshelf this super colorful photography book I bought years ago online, after having visited the TEFAF, the famous art exhibition nearby Maastricht (The Netherlands). As some of you might know, I love colors, so when I saw for the first time one of David LaChapelle 's photos at the TEFAF, I couldn't do anything else than stop and stare.

And this is what I think a great photo does: it makes you stop and stare, try to look for more details, try to understand the intention and message behind it. So, if it's the first impression which counts.. "Wow!".. I still remember the feeling when I saw the picture of "The Last Supper" in front of me, so big and full of colors.. (see below). I was immediately into the picture myself, just part of the rest of the crowd represented in it. After these first impressions I started looking at the details and then looked as well around me at other of his pictures, and found everything beautifully outrageous and controversial .. and this is the way LaChapelle is!

So, this time I am going to summarize for you in a bit less than 5 minutes (yes, very short this time!) my main impressions from the interesting and controversial "Heaven to Hell" book (2006), an overview of around 13 years of work of this iconic photographer, with pictures dating back 1993 up to 2006, ranging from "Jude Law - Young and Brush" (1996) to "Sarah Jessica Parker - Sex and the Subway" (1999), from the series "Taxi Driver" (2002) to "Scarface" (2002) and many others..

So take a zip of coffee or tea (or anything else you like!), sit comfortably and enjoy this week's reading with me!

Before I drop some pictures below here though and in order to give you an idea of this "pop art" photographer, I wanted to reflect on a couple of points I noticed after reviewing this book:

  • One of the key factor in the whole book is the color. This is indeed an element of recognition in most of LaChapelle works. The use of color and contrast strikes the viewer in an incredible way.

  • The second thing that made me really interested in keeping on looking at the pictures is the variety of situations presented, and therefore the amazing creativity of this artist! It must have been amazing to build the set of each photo and have all the models play along in the game.. (I read somewhere else that sometimes the preparation of one of these sets was taking up to even 2 weeks of work!).

  • A third factor is the obscenity with which LaChapelle approaches the messages sent via most of his photos, a mix of sexuality at the hedge of pornography. I personally don't like this part, but I understand that to be noticed nowadays, you have to be also controversial. Yet so many contemporary actors are so beautifully represented in this book, in a nudity which go as far as they allow to, if any.

  • The pictures we look at are a big contrast, a mix of glamour and trash, style and kitsch, innovation and classicism, creativity and repetition.

  • What I really miss in the book, in order to get to know LaChapelle better, is a bit of text around the main series and the ideas and engagements of this photographer around his main works.. of course we have the internet if we want to know more, however compared to many other books, I would have saved few pictures and added few concepts around his work.

But enough words for now! :-) Here are some pictures from the book:

Looking at these pictures I truly believe now that David LaChapelle is rightfully named the "Fellini of photography", a pop-art interpreter of the artistic and photography world, who was offered his first work from no one less than Andy Warhol for "Interview" magazine. When I think about other photography books depicting celebrities and bands, mostly black and white photos of famous people represented in their main worlds, I think LaChapelle interpreted ("integrated" as he likes to say) the world of celebrities in a new unique way. We can love it or hate it, however this is what innovation in photography is also about!

Well guys, here it ends my quick book review and I hope I was able to give in few minutes a good idea of this 300+ pages book packed of amazing pictures and interesting concepts in the world of celebrities and photography.

I truly think every photographer should have this book in his/her library, so check it out!

The SPBR (Sunday Photography's Book Review) article is based on photography books: I read a book and I make a summary of what the editor writes, highlighting what I consider important and adding my own comments, idea and perceptions. This means that the main idea is extracted by the text included in the books and written by their contributors.

- All pictures included in this article are from David LaChapelle book "Heaven to Hell". Pictures might be subject to copyrights: all rights are reserved to the author.

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