Hollywood is synonymous with glitz and glamour, revolving around beautiful people with iconic lives. However, there's also a darkness lying beneath the bright lights of Hollywood and it's filled with meaningless sex, addiction, breakdowns, vicious rumors, loss of privacy, overexposure, and depression. Not many people have publicly delved into that world but with every new generation comes a person who enjoys digging the dirt out from under the mask, reconciling the beauty with the trauma. Photographer Tyler Shields is such a person.
Hailing from Jacksonville, Florida, Shields is completely self-taught and rose to fame quicker than most. His career began when he started directing music videos, quickly making a name for himself amongst the famous faces he worked with. Once he branched into the world of photography by posting photos on his MySpace, the relationships he made helped him to gain the trust of various celebrities, allowing him to take the types of controversial shots he's known for. From one of his very first professional photo shoots with Ben Foster (where he asked the actor to leap off a roof) to his more recent controversial photos that feature girlfriend Francesca Eastwood taking a chainsaw to a Birkin bag, the 30-year-old certainly knows how to market himself and does it well.
With his penchant for scenes of blood, black eyes, sex, and violence, Shields has made himself into the "cool" photographer, the one who will gladly push the boundaries if it means dynamic shots. Of course, with rabid fans come rabid haters, and Shields gets his fair share of them. His photo series with Glee star Heather Morris, heavily made up with an impressive shiner, got him a plethora of hate mail and death threats, dismissing him as a supporter of domestic violence. Photographing The OC actress Mischa Barton with a slab of raw beef got many animal rights groups up in arms, with people sending letters threatening to cut his own flesh apart. Destroying the $100,000 Birkin bag, first by chainsaw and then by fire, resulted in a wave of protesters angry over his apparent disregard for the economy, many of the angered beings fans of the coveted symbol of affluence.
However, with every angry letter Tyler Shields receives, he probably gets a hundred times that in new fans, only further solidifying his popularity and success. His prints are sold anywhere from $15,000 to $100,000 at galleries in London and Los Angeles, with incredibly famous actors, actresses, filmmakers, and fellow photographers as proud owners. He's also taken acting roles in indie films, is directing the upcoming Final Girl starring Abigail Breslin, is a published author, and regularly appears on E!'s Mrs. Eastwood & Company with Francesca Eastwood.
Most recently, Tyler Shields has been added to the list of artists featured at the Tate Modern in London. By displaying one of the photos from his "Bad Barbie" series, the major art museum has given the photographer even more legitimacy in the face of those who doubt his talent. According to ArtInfo, Simon Baker, the museum's curator of photography and international art, made the choice to honor Shields last February after he saw the opening of Shields' exhibition at the Intimate Modern Gallery. This new development in Sheilds' career is sure to make other museums take notice and will hopefully be a move towards more gallery displays in the future.
JustLuxe: Your photos show a very cinematic world blurred between reality and this possible writhing underground that societal pressures can't reach, reflecting our basest desires as a society; do you have any specific inspirations behind your work? Tyler Shields: I just love to show people the way I see the world. It's important for me to explore the things that I see and create inspiration from the world around me. I don't look to other artists, just the world.
JL: How did you first get into photography? Was there ever an awkward period of trying to find your niche? TS: I think as anything you do you get better at it over time. when I started I had nothing, just a camera, not even lights, so I had to make do with what I had and as I kept growing so did my work. But it was quick for me - the first photo I ever took I sold. I really believe some people are just meant to do things. The last thing I expected was to be a photographer but everything in my life at the time was forcing it upon me.
JL: We've read that you never studied photography and never had any specific photographer you looked up to until you were already established in the field; do you think that helped you to hone in on what you really wanted to do without having unwarranted influences swaying you into directions you wouldn't have naturally gone in? TS: People always tell me I break the rules but I didn't know there were rules to break. To me it was anything I can dream of I can do it, but yes I think it was good for me because I wasn't trying to be anything but me and that is what people responded to most.
JL: You seem heavily concerned with the corrupting nature of affluence and its ultimately destroying us as a species. You've more recently begun destroying symbols of wealth as a response, like the Louboutin's and more recently the Birkin bag; how did this theme arise in your work? TS: I've always loved destroying things. I suppose I am the opposite of a horder, I like to get rid of things once they have served their purpose. I do however have the utmost respect for those items, which is why I chose them to destroy...
JL: Have you noticed a backlash claiming a hypocritical nature of your attack on society's obsession with status symbols when you yourself are in the center of Hollywood working with some of the world's most famous celebrities? TS: Doesn't matter who I work with, it only matters the work I do. People have been telling me NO since I started doing this and maybe that will stop one day, maybe it won't. It really doesn't affect me either way if someone hates it and they want to kill me because I set a bag on fire, that's on them not me. I have to push myself and if a few people get mad along the way that's just occupational hazard.
JL: You use a lot of props in your photos. Are they always thought through or are they more random choices to help with the chaotic feel of the photos? TS: That just depends. I would say 50/50 now. When it started I would get specific props for something, now I have a house full of them and people are bringing props as well. I like freedom and I like people to be able to express themselves.
JL: Blood is a recurring theme in your work and you use it in a way that conveys sexuality, strength, intimacy, and vulnerability. Today violence is far more acceptable than sex and by blending the two, you force the viewer to confront the innate sexuality in the violence they readily accept and it can cause one to feel almost uncomfortable; is that a deliberate intention or an accidental outcome? TS: Yes, very deliberate. Blood makes people feel. Some people can't look at it and some people love it, but either way it can make you think, which is exciting. It's fun to watch people make their own back story, that's my favorite part about the blood stuff.
JL: You manage to get celebrities to open themselves to the camera in very revealing ways; do you plan the shoot concepts prior to meeting the subject in your photo or is it more of a collaborative effort? TS: Most of the time people just show up and we do it. They, and sometimes I, don't even know what it's going to be when we start. Then there are the family people like Francesca [Eastwood], Emma [Roberts], Shiloh [Fernandez], Connor [Paolo], Gabe [Gabriel Mann], Jenna [Ushkowitz], and [Michael] Trevino. With them we will plan out some stuff and let things happen, but it's pretty amazing to have such supportive people. I am working on a new series with Francesca and Emma that is one of my favorites things I have ever done.
JL: Has anyone ever refused to go along with your plans? TS: A guy once threw up when I showed him what I wanted him to do but it turns out he had vertigo and was scared to death of heights.
JL: You often blend violence with an outward appearance of fragility in your photos, and very often it is directed at women; do you feel that you're empowering your subjects when portraying them as seemingly "victims?" TS: No women in my photos are victims. They may be playing a role but the women have all the power always. Women handle things a lot better then men, 99% of the time they are able to endure things a lot of guys are not.
JL: Can it be frustrating dealing with the backlash caused by those photos? TS: Nope it's all part of it. If you want to do things like this you have to be willing to take the good with the bad.
JL: Paparazzi has begun to enter into your work; how do you feel about the dissolution of privacy for celebrities? Is it something that you've had to deal with yourself? TS: I have had some intense moments with them, I have seen them chase Lohan and it's intense. If they ever take my photo they are always nice to me.
JL: You appear to have a very personal approachability with a crazed vagabond flair, as well as various other artistic pursuits (novels and film projects); how do you find balance in your crazy life? TS: To me its all one in the same. I just like to create things. Books are fun to write and movies are fun to film, but at the same time it allows me to play with my mind and see where it can take me.
JL: Do you have any projects on the line right now that you're excited for? TS: I am finishing the Dirty Side of Glamour my new photography book I am doing with Harper Collins which will be awesome, and Final Girl with Abigail Breslin who I am so excited to work with, plus the top secret photo series Francesca, Emma and I are working on.
JL: What would you like your photographic legacy to be? TS: You will have to wait and see its just getting warmed up.
For more information on Tyler Shields and his work visit AGallery.co.uk or his personal site TylerShields.com.
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