Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - Contents - Words by NI­CHOLAS FON­SECA

Andy Warhol pro­tégé David Lachapelle opens up about his colour­ful life.

David Lachapelle is con­sid­er­ing the leg­end of Lana Turner – more specif­i­cally, the (only half-true) fable that the ac­tor was dis­cov­ered, aged 16 years old, by a movie direc­tor while sit­ting at a Hol­ly­wood phar­macy counter. Turner, a strik­ing glama­zon and tabloid mag­net who led a no­to­ri­ous per­sonal life, was ex­actly the kind of celebrity that Lachapelle would, decades af­ter her apex, be­come fa­mous for pho­tograph­ing.

Lachapelle’s own path to promi­nence was sim­i­larly fated. Bul­lied for be­ing gay, he dropped out of high school aged 15 and ran off to New York. From the age of 14 he’d al­ready been spend­ing his Thurs­day nights in the city hang­ing out at Stu­dio 54, sur­rounded by stars – among them his favourite artist, Andy Warhol.

“I never talked to him be­cause I didn’t have any­thing to talk to him about,” Lachapelle tells Stel­lar. “I saw all kinds of fa­mous peo­ple [and] I never went up and talked to them, ei­ther – I was there to dance!”

Lachapelle was, and still is, boy­ishly hand­some, the pos­ses­sor of killer cheek­bones. He briefly joined the club’s ranks of barely clothed bus­boys. The stint didn’t last long. When he was 17, he re­turned to his par­ents and, with their fi­nan­cial back­ing, at­tended art school in North Carolina. When he went back to New York again, he hus­tled – in more ways than one. For a spell, Lachapelle es­corted to scrape by; he also plugged away at his pho­tog­ra­phy in the hope of land­ing a gallery show.

Even­tu­ally, it hap­pened. Af­ter see­ing his work, Warhol brought Lachapelle aboard at In­ter­view, his hugely in­flu­en­tial mag­a­zine. The gig kick­started a daz­zling ca­reer that has found Lachapelle, 54, car­ry­ing the torch for Warhol’s left-of­cen­tre sen­si­bil­i­ties, ge­nius for mix­ing high and low cul­ture and com­mand of eye-pop­ping vi­su­als. Lachapelle says his men­tor was misun­der­stood – more monas­tic than mad­cap.

“He wasn’t al­ways treated that nicely by the art es­tab­lish­ment. They nailed him. And kids to­day… they just think he was wild. They don’t re­alise there was an­other time to that man.”

Warhol’s ap­proval gave Lachapelle a job along with en­trée to a world stud­ded with well-con­nected, deep-pock­eted pil­lars of cul­ture. It was Lana Turner all over again, re­lo­cated from Sun­set

Boule­vard to the cob­ble­stoned streets of New York’s art-mad Soho dis­trict. I ask him if to­day’s starv­ing young artists could ever ex­pect a sim­i­lar start.

“You know, you make your own op­por­tu­ni­ties,” he replies. “At the time, I didn’t know what the hell was go­ing on. I just did the best I could. [Now] kids are stuck with in­sane stu­dent debt – I can’t imag­ine start­ing out to­day. I don’t know how you would.

“I re­ally be­lieve in ed­u­ca­tion – strongly. I be­lieve in know­ing art his­tory. But if you are go­ing to be an artist, you don’t have to go to school for a de­gree. No­body has asked me, once, where I went to school. So many in­terns I have com­ing to work with me don’t even get a his­tory of pho­tog­ra­phy from th­ese col­leges. It’s mind-bog­gling! One boy work­ing here is $160,000 in debt, wants to be a por­trait pho­tog­ra­pher and didn’t know who Di­ane Ar­bus was.”

A few weeks be­fore speak­ing to Stel­lar, Lachapelle went to a pres­ti­gious art col­lege in Amer­ica’s south­east to re­ceive an award and give a lec­ture. He sounds con­flicted over the visit. “The school was just us­ing me,” he says. “The morn­ing of the lec­ture, go­ing down there to re­ceive some bo­gus award, I read about the pres­i­dent. She [re­port­edly] pays her­self $9.6 mil­lion a year and her hus­band gets half a mil­lion… and th­ese kids are sad­dled with in­sane debt? It’s crim­i­nal.”

HIS EX­PLO­SIVE SUC­CESS in the ’90s and 2000s, when Lachapelle pho­tographed seem­ingly ev­ery ac­tor, rock star, fash­ion model and politi­cian mak­ing head­lines, gave him the fi­nan­cial free­dom to call time in 2006. Ex­hausted by the three years he spent mak­ing his ac­claimed doc­u­men­tary Rize, Lachapelle moved to a nud­ist colony in Hawaii, re­cal­i­brated his artis­tic fo­cus and re­con­nected with na­ture. “This has been my call­ing since I was a kid,” he tells Stel­lar. “My path is to cre­ate, and in or­der for me to do that prop­erly, I have to have soli­tude and peace of mind. And that comes from turn­ing ev­ery­thing off, be­ing alone, stay­ing away from so­cial me­dia and be­ing with na­ture.”

Lachapelle is not ex­actly a her­mit – in the past decade, he ven­tured out to “pho­to­graph peo­ple of note, peo­ple who are worth cel­e­brat­ing, from Hil­lary Clin­ton to Ju­lian As­sange to Amy Wine­house”. He also ex­plored en­vi­ron­men­tal and land­scape por­trai­ture. Now he is re-emerg­ing from his self-im­posed semi-ex­ile to share a trove of his work, old and new. This month, he head­lines the Bal­larat In­ter­na­tional Foto Bi­en­nale with his first-ever Aus­tralian ex­hi­bi­tion. Later this year he will re­lease Lost + Found and Good News, the first new vol­umes of his work – much of it never-be­fore-seen – to be pub­lished in a decade.

He says he is com­mit­ted as ever to en­rich­ing lives with his im­ages. “I look through his­tory and imag­ine a world with­out art and it’s an­other form of hell,” he says bluntly. “There’s enough con­fu­sion, enough dark­ness. An artist can eas­ily choose to cre­ate and add to both, so I try to cre­ate some­thing that will move some­body the way that mu­sic does.”

Lachapelle ex­plains that he has re­cently been lis­ten­ing to Ste­vie Won­der’s 1976 mas­ter­work Songs In The Key Of Life. “It’s the sound of an artist reach­ing out and touch­ing you,” he mar­vels. “You can’t get more in­ti­mate with an artist than by lis­ten­ing to their mu­sic, read­ing or hear­ing their words, or look­ing at their work. And this is im­por­tant. It’s what ex­cites me about mak­ing art, that com­mu­nion with the viewer. We have na­ture, and we have art. It’s where we find the sub­lime.”

“Kids are now stuck with in­sane stu­dent debt – I can’t imag­ine start­ing out to­day”

THROUGH THE LENS (clock­wise from left) David Lachapelle with Kanye West and Pamela An­der­son in 2009; his 2006 piece Court­ney Love: Pi­eta; 2003’s Last Sup­per: Je­sus Is My Home­boy.

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