The story goes that David Lachappel, the highly successful 21st Century American photographer, turned his back on commercial work because of Madonna. Where her big and vocal demands when making the video for Hung Up made him, the then director, walk off set and into a reconfigured Hawaiian nudist camp. Well, maybe that was a good thing all round, because Hung Up, ended up, a truly brilliant video (no doubt due to the great woman’s high standards) and Lachappell, now seems a lot happier, focusing on fine art work in his Maui hideaway. At the peak of his commercial powers, he successfully photographed some of the most famous people of his generation. His iconic style, described as pop-art, hyper-real, surreal, and glamour photography, is entertainingly chronicled by Tim Connor, who states: “In his most famous pictures semi-nude celebrities cavort in richly detailed sprees of lavish self-indulgence and orgiastic simulated sex. In others bewildered-looking models lift off the planet – raptured!”. Memorable shots for Plant Curator include the patriotic, nail-vanished and well oiled David Beckham around the time of 2002 World Cup. OK, enough of that, now back to plants.
The reason for his appearance on Plant Curator is to celebrate one series of Lachappelles photographs that focused predominantly on plants. Earth Laughs in Flowers, a phrase taken from a Ralph Waldo Emerson poem, is made up of 10 floral still-life photographs that he produced in 2012. Lachappelle’s press release at the time stated that the artworks “… appropriate the traditional Baroque still life in order to explore contemporary vanity, vice, the transience of earthly possessions and, ultimately, the fragility of humanity.”
These pictures produced with the camera rather than the brush are without doubt a modern day, shinier version of the Dutch and Flemish still life flower paintings of the 17th Century. They also draw on so called vanitas artworks of a similar era. Vanitas, latin for vanity, were a type of still life artwork that used motifs to allude to the same issues Lachappelle references above. Vanitas used not only flowers but objects such as decaying fruit, skulls, burning candles and more to symbolise these messages. Lachappelle also uses flowers and rotting fruit, but then burning cigarettes, dolls heads and other cheap items of popular culture.
Lachappelle’s flower images are bold and fragile, luxurious and morbid, beautiful and ugly, low-brow and high-brow – all at the same time. You end up spending significant time trying to work out what objects of popular culture he has included in each composition and why. Ultimately it presents something old as something new. The photographs are even styled to look painted, apparently achieved by Lachappelle through slow shutter speeds, smoke diffusion and low light conditions. Just to see how much inspiration Lachappelle channelled from past flower painters, Plant Curator tracked down some early paintings for comparison.
In order – 1 Lachappelle – Late Summer, 2 Lachappelle – Flaccid Passion, 3 & 4 Jan Davidsz. de Heem (ca.1606 – 1684), 5 Jan Brueghel the Elder (1568–1625), 6 Francesco Hayez (1791 – 1881)