FREAKS UNIQUE: Amanda Lepore, Philip Johnson and Jesus — all muses for LaChapelle's gorgeous imagination
It's the ultimate package of sinfully vulgar gloss.
After opening the box that contained David LaChapelle's "Heaven to Hell" (Taschen $59.99), a venerable hush fell over my office at the newspaper.
Leafing through the 344 pages is a vivid journey through the sacred, the profane and the supernatural.
The arresting image on the book's cover "Pieta with Courtney Love" features the Widow Cobain posed as Mary, post-crucifixion. Shot in 2006, the wounded corpse wears bloodstained FTL undies and a tube sock with stigmata holes.
Our troubled mourning wife rests on an ambulance stretcher. And the Grunge Messiah's arm hangs down, revealing his veins — black and punctured.
With so many eye-catching details, you could stare at LaChapelle's "Pieta" longer than the album cover of "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band."
The gay visionary doesn't waste time with a foreword. The images speak for themselves: nightmarishly sexy, dangerously innocent, vapid and ugly, saturated with God-given beauty.
The photographer's muse, transsexual superstar Amanda Lepore, graces many pages.
On a double-page tableaux, "The Metamorphosis and Other Stories," Lepore shows off her gash while a babydyke tattoo artists puts the finishing touches on flames licking her vagina.
All the other usual suspects are well represented.
Amid druggy-induced references to "Taxi Driver" and "Scarface" are LaChapelle's coterie of celebutants: Pamela Anderson, Paris Hilton, Whitney Houston, Sofia Coppola, Naomi Campbell, David Beckham, Angelina Jolie, Elton, Dolly, Lil' Kim and Jocelyn Wildenstein.
Some surprising cameos make the short list: Hilary Clinton (or is that a wax dummy?), a panicked Philip Johnson, a happy Muhammad Ali and a sweat-soaked and shirtless Lance Armstrong.
For a brief and welcome detour, LaChapelle flexes his lens.
Abandoning his high-sheen vision, he unveils the "Drunk American" series.
Shot in 2006, this is his strange Polaroid-esque homage to late-'70s U.S.A.
It's a post-Bush apocalypse, where gallons of Carlo Rossi spill onto wall-to-wall brown shag. Where grandmothers hold guns and serve guests tawdry noshes on stars-and-stripes paper plates.
It's kitsch mixed with unsettling prognostication.
Toward the end of our journey, LaChapelle faces death. And it's not totally ugly — it's acceptance.
Titles like "In Heaven, Everything is Fine" and "When the World is Through" give the first glimpse of afterlife.
A celestial hue imbues LaChapelle's vision.
The very end, brings us to the beginning: Jesus himself.
LaChapelle envisions the Second Coming in the 21st century. It's as if Andy Warhol was standing over LaChapelle's shoulder when he shot his gangsta-style "Last Supper."
This is divine inspiration.
If you fork over the $60 for "Heaven to Hell," you'll probably never let it out of your sight.
— Daniel Kusner