Marc Balet asked model and muse Amanda Lapore to ask David Lachapelle a few questions about their relationship and how he arrived at star photographer status.
Amanda: Why do you like to photograph me?
David: Because you’re already retouched. It saves me a lot of expenses.
Amanda: What attracted you to me?
David: The first thing that attracted me to you was that I used to see you out in New York and I was scared to talk to you because you were so beautiful, I thought you’d be mean or something. Because all the pretty girls in my high school were really mean, so I thought you’d be mean too, but you weren’t. I finally got the courage to talk to you one night and you were so nice, this was like a while ago, and then we started working together and you were the best model. Our first shoot was on that picture, Addicted to Diamonds, where you were snorting these real diamonds and so we had to move them into your nostril and stuff. And in the middle of the shoot, I decided to change the color of the tabletop, it was this blue and I wanted it to be gold.
So everybody left the room, left the shooting area to go find this color that I wanted. And you just stood in the same position, you were naked on your knees and we totally forgot to tell you that the shoot was like… we’re going to change something. A half an hour later we came back and you were frozen in the position that we left you. And I thought wow, this girl is like the best model ever. She takes direction really good.
Amanda: Didn’t you tell me that it was perfect – and I wanted to take a good picture, so I just didn’t move.
David: I forgot to tell you that we were breaking for half an hour, so I come back into the studio and you were just, you were in the same position!
Amanda: How many times do you think you’ve photographed me?
David: I’ve lost count. There’s a lot of pictures that we’ve done, we haven’t even printed and published yet. You have a book coming out, so we’re going to probably to go through those and find stuff.
Amanda: I have a ghost writer and I’m doing interviews and of course David, you have a big part of it. You’re going to write a chapter. A lot of times you would do a thing you called “piggyback,” where there would be like fantastic sets built for a magazine and you would say come over right now, and I would roll out of bed and run over. And I remember one time there was a beautiful set with chandeliers in a beautiful room that you used for a celebrity or something. And you decided to have me masturbate with a carrot in the photo.
David: The Forty Karat.
Amanda: Yeah, the Forty Karat. You never wanted to waste a set.
Amanda: We did this fashion plastic surgery story and it was like… you know, I really felt the emotion when you switched the heads on a black and white model and you had a boy with boobs and then you had me pregnant, and then photographed me having a baby and crying. I really felt, you know, emotional. I felt… like with all the guys I had been with and I had never become pregnant. And here I am pregnant and having a baby, it was really emotional for me, you know. It was a fake, and the baby was fake. But my emotions were real. And I was wearing a fake bra. Everything was fake except my emotions.
Amanda: That really made me think, which is rare, because I try not to think. When did you realize that you could create these worlds where you could control everything?
David: After a while I started working more for magazines. I was a little intimidated by the celebrities and was trying to feel that world out. I gained confidence around ’92 or ’93, somewhere around there. And then by ’94, I understood that I could do kind of what I wanted to, you know, and people would go along with it. But it was natural, it was organic and it wasn’t that suddenly I realized, it was a gradual thing that just started happening. And I found that people really like to be directed and that if you were really sincere about wanting to do a good shot and you were really sincere about the concepts, you weren’t there to make somebody look bad.
ON ANDY WARHOL
The only thing Andy (Warhol) ever said to me at an interview about photography was when he came by the Interview offices one day, and I think it was when we were doing the music issue. He said, well just do whatever you want, but make everybody look good. That was the only advice I’d ever directly gotten from him, you know, other than just being around the incredibly creative office space. But, that confirmed something in my head and years later, I applied that. People really don’t care what is happening in the photograph as long as they look good.
Amanda: Did anyone ever say no to you in any of these crazy shoots that you do?
David: Yeah. I think I’ve heard ‘no’ before. I just turn the music louder. I just, I don’t know, I kind of just ignore it because I never try to take a picture to make anybody look bad. There’s definitely been times where people… I remember, you know, Michael Jordan once for Details magazine, I was shooting him and we’re exactly the same age and everything, and he came in with like thirty people. It was for an editorial. He was promoting a cologne and I knew that Details wanted an interesting photograph of him. And all these people were talking for him and they were all yelling at me, like you can’t do this and it can’t be anything to do with basketball, and this is when Michael Jordan was, you know, the biggest basketball player on the planet.
And I just looked at him and I said well, can’t we just talk? Do you always have people talk for you? Can’t we just talk ourselves? And he looked at me like I was completely out of my mind that I would talk to him directly. And he took two steps back and walked out of the room with like his gigantic entourage. And this woman was screaming, “Eighty million fans!” I don’t know what the hell she was saying, but the only time anyone’s ever really walked out was Michael Jordan. I’ve had really good experiences with sports stars. Mohammed Ali was incredible, I mean he was the best ever. I was so nervous to photograph him. I think actors and pop stars and artists always kind of understand the value in photographs. Our greatest stars really understood that.
Marilyn Monroe understood the power of photography. James Dean, that picture of him walking down the street in Times Square with the overcoat, like a young struggling actor, that was a photo shoot, you know, that wasn’t random. It looks like street photography, it looks like a random journalistic shot. But it was a shoot. Our biggest stars understand the value in photographs. I guess the only person would be Michael Jordan who really didn’t get it at all, didn’t want to work. It really didn’t work out. I had to call Details and be like um…
Amanda: You got your start at Interview magazine. What were those early days like?
David:It was such an incredible thing to work for Interview because I would remember every last Wednesday of the month was open call with Marc Balet.
David: The line, Amanda, would go down Madison Avenue, down 33rd Street, down Madison, like a whole avenue block, a whole city street block of people with their portfolios. And I would just be, like, I can’t believe I’m working… because I loved Interview from when I was a kid and I just… it’s a zeitgeist. Now, with all these magazines and the Internet and stuff, you could not imagine that there was one magazine that was just the magazine. Like anywhere in the world, you know, people would put it on their coffee table, like you’d be at a hair salon in Atlanta and people would be like this is how cool we are, we have Interview on our coffee table, or whatever. It was just the most important pop culture magazine in the world. Everyone goes, wait, who’s going to be on the cover, who’s going to be on the cover? You just could not wait to see that Richard Bernstein cover and it stood out so much.
David: I felt so lucky to be there. I just couldn’t get over the fact that I was working there. Way before I thought I’d ever be a photographer when I was just drawing and painting, I loved magazines. And so here I was, working for this great magazine that was just everything. I mean it was everything. I went to London, Amanda, in ’84. Working for Interview there was such an exotic important thing, like it just opened up every door, people went that’s the photographer from Interview magazine and everybody wanted to be in it. And I would send back photographs of all the London kids, Lee Valley and Michael Clark and whatever was happening in London, all the artists.
David: My first shoot (for Interview), I didn’t know that I was allowed to tell the hairdresser what to do. My very first assignment was a country singer, and I don’t remember her name. She came in with this country dress on and country hair. The hairdresser took all these rubber bands and pulled her hair all straight up into this palm tree and then the guy Gary, the stylist, he put her in Stephen Sprouse. So this girl comes in, in cowboy boots and a prairie skirt and then suddenly she’s in this Sprouse dress with these silver boots on.
The studio was on 3rd Street between A and B, and I shoved her over this broken air conditioner up on the roof. It was August and her silver boots were sinking into the tar, and then she got stuck in it. I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I was holding these reflector boards on her face and I was trying to crop out the palm tree on her head because I didn’t know that I could tell the hair stylist, like, could you do something different with the hair? So she started crying because the reflector boards were making her eyes tear. And then I thought it was really great because her album was called When I Cry. I’m not making this up, it was called When I Cry and she’s crying.
And then she started really crying because the Sprouse boots were stuck in the tar. And I’m like trying to pull the boots out of this melted tar on the roof. And she kept saying, I thought you were so different. I think she was from Georgia or something and thought she was coming to New York for this big glamour shoot and she was in this little East Village hellhole. And had this total makeover.
So first she’s crying because I was burning her retinas, and then she was crying because she’s going “I thought this was going to be different. I just thought it was going to be really different.”
Amanda: You gave Marc at OuiHours a great photo to use for the archival section of his lingerie magazine. I love lingerie.
David: Amanda, you wear lingerie during the day. You wear it as daywear. So then, what do you wear at night?
Amanda:Well, usually, a man.