...a Q&A With Tyler Shields, Young Hollywood's Hottest — and Most Twisted — Photographer
Did Lindsay Lohan just murder somebody and feast on their blood? The disturbing image above is the work of Tyler Shields, a 29-year-old Hollywood photographer who has found fame depicting young starlets (like Emma Roberts, "Glee's" Dianna Argon, and Hayden Pannetiere) in questionable poses that combine sex, violence, and... lots and lots of blood. His large-scale prints sell for upwards of $20,000 at London's itinerant A Gallery. Now, from October 12 to November 20, the photographer's sanguinary work will be on view in "Well Hung," a collaborative exhibition with bad-boy graffiti artist Maximilian Wiedemann at London's Intimate Modern gallery.
A former music video director, Shields has a knack for stirring controversy wherever he goes, whether by photographing Lohan with a gun stuck in her face — a picture taken in the middle of her recent shoplifting trial no less — or getting arrested while on a Georgia photo shoot with the cast of "Vampire Diaries." Is this guy an emerging artistic sensation, a new name to follow in the age of Mr. Brainwash? Or, is he something else entirely? ARTINFO tried to find out, talking to Shields — who also does more demure portraits of actors like Jenna Ushkowitz, Gary Bussey, and Rainn Wilson — about his start on MySpace, his obsession with Lohan, his three novels, blood — and why young Hollywood will do anything for him.
How did you start to work with Lindsay Lohan?
I actually met her briefly through an actress named Electra Avalon — she was in "Machete." I met her [Lohan] at the Chateau Marmont briefly and then we started tweeting each other and Twitter is really how we set up the shoot. We started tweeting each other and then she was like, "I'll be back in L.A. on this date, let's do it," and then she came over and we shot and now we've shot so many times. I can't even tell you exactly how many times.
What is it about her that inspires you as an artist?
She's just so daring. She's a character in herself and she is very good at it. I shoot her a different way than I think anybody else shoots her, and I think she knows that and I know that and I think we compliment each other very well. People have reserves, they have a little bit of fear and you have to work past that. Some people, they get it and they're ready to go, and they know what they want to do. Some people, you have to build that with them. With Lindsay she knew immediately like after five minutes of shooting that this is different, this is special. So I want to do something very special.
How do you get so many celebrities to collaborate with you and strike such outrageous poses?
I think that they want to make art. They're not given the freedom to do this type of stuff — even when they do movies. They have stunt people that do stuff and they have other people that do stuff. Really it just boils down to they're artists, they want to make art, they want to be a part of something, and they can do that freely with me. They trust in me that it's going to look good, and that it's not going to look cheesy, I guess you could say.
Why are rape and blood recurring themes in your work?
Rape? I don't think it's rape! It's more... maybe dominance is a better word than rape. There's a class at UCLA that a girl, an actress told me about, a women's class at UCLA, and they spent a week talking about my work, and one of the actresses that I know was in the class and the room was completely split. It was, "Oh, that's too aggressive towards women," and the other half of the room is like, "No, that's just a dominant situation." So I think that's part of it. It just depends who's looking at it. I'm not into the idea of the raping of women, but I think it can be sexy. I think in a dominant situation, dominance can be sexy.
And the blood?
I think blood tells such a story. It's so shocking to people because everybody has blood and everybody has bled or seen someone bleed. And you know when you see blood there's a story, whether it's your own blood or someone else's blood. How did that get there? It's such a taboo thing: "Oh my god, there's blood — we have to clean it up, get rid of it." And I think that it's just very haunting to some people.
Are you trying to provoke people with your work?
No. You think you want to make something. That's my thing. It all happens organically. I don't know if you saw the shot where the guy has his hand on Lindsay's breast. When we were doing that, that wasn't a talked-about thing. We were shooting in the car, and I was like, "Oh man, I love this, let's do this, slide your hand on her breast." And he did it and that was it. That wasn't a calculated thing where a month before I was like, "You know what would be shocking? If we had somebody grabbing her breast." This is what I have in my head and I want to do it. And that's the thing — she's daring, she's willing. She wasn't like, "I don't know." She was like, "Okay, cool. I love this." And then she saw it and was like, "That is amazing."
Which photographers do you count among your influences?
I really never drew any influence from photography. I more drew influence from my life and just my own mind. I try to just create everything from my own mind and how I see it as opposed to how other people see it. Like, the blood shot, or even the breast-grab shot, that came from me being in the car with her and watching 50 people stand on the outside of the car trying to take her picture so frantically.
Are there any specific artists who inspire you?
I don't know. I think definitely there are some movies that I enjoy, but, again, I just try to create my own thing. There's a lot of artists that I respect, and I respect the hell out of what they've done. Banksy is a genius. Damien Hirst is a genius. Andy Warhol was the original marketing master. I think that there's a lot that you can learn from these people, but I'm not going to be making a giant shark anytime soon. I love what they do because I understand what it takes to make it and to have a vision. This is one of the hardest things that you could possibly try to do in your life. The success percentile on being an artist is nil, and I've been fortunate enough to be able to do that. I just turn in a dream into a tangible item, and then I'm allowed to live because of that. I respect anyone who has made it just solely based as an artist. I get probably about 15,000 emails a month. and a lot of people always ask me how I do it. "How do you do this? How? How? How? How? How?" And I always tell them, "If you're not willing to work more than every other person you know, then you should do something else. This becomes your life — completely. You live it and you breathe it, and everything else is just, 'Why am I not doing that?'"
How did you get your start as a photographer?
People started emailing me and being like, "How can I buy a photo?"
Where did they see your work?
When MySpace first started, I developed a code where you could have one of my images on your profile page, and this was before anyone really knew how to use HTML on that, so it went from 100 people to 1,000 people to 10,000 pages in the first week. People started adding me and adding me, and seeing more of the work and more of the work. I had total somewhere around 400,000 friends when it was at its peak. I think right now I still have 90,000 on there. [ARTINFO checked: 86,873]
And how did you break into the L.A. celebrity scene?
I went to an event, I met a girl who had seen my work on MySpace. It was some random party that I think Danny Masterson had — this was like years and years and years ago, maybe seven years ago — and a girl was like, "Oh my god, I've seen your photos, I would love to shoot with you." Her name is Caroline de Mornay, she's a model and an actress, and she introduced me to Ben Foster and Danny Masterson. She introduced me to all these people and I shot some of them. She was really the one who really kicked that off for me and then you know you go and you shoot people and then other people see it and they want to shoot and you meet people
Why are you so intrigued by young Hollywood?
To me, they're just people. These are just my friends They're just people who I know and who I want to work with. I don't treat them any different than I would treat any person that I know. They're people. I work with some of them, I don't work with some of them. It is what it is. I never had an interest in, "Oh, I want to befriend a bunch of celebrities." That was never what it is. I just wanted to work with people who were talented and who could help me achieve my goal in creating something, and if you work with talented people it brings your talent up.
Richard Phillips, an artist from the blue-chip gallery world, recently included Lindsay Lohan in an art film that he made to show during the Venice Biennale. How you feel the two of you approach Lindsay differently as a muse
I think that's the cool thing — that's the best part about art. I mean, I don't know who he is, but you can put me and that guy in the same room with the same person and we're both going to get you something different.
What other kinds of projects are you working on?
I've been working on "The Dirty Side of Glamour" for a couple of years now. You know, I wanted it to be one of those things where it's just a gigantic crazy book of everybody doing the craziest things, and it definitely embodies a lot of young Hollywood, but older people have started to get into it now and it's just kind of taken its own life. It's almost done. There's many things that I want to do. I just wrote three novels. It's a series, and all three are about different things. The first one is called "The Smartest Man" and it's about the man who becomes the smartest man in the world.
How long did it take you to write these three novels?
Sixty-five hours. I did it over the course of a few nights between 4 a.m. and 6 a.m. in the morning. But you know I'm going to turn those into movies. I want to make movies, I want to do all kinds of things. whatever it is i can dream up. That was the thing with the blood painting. Do you know about the blood painting?
What is the blood painting?
I did a painting with 20 peoples' blood that they donated to me. Jenna Ushkowitz gave me her blood, a bunch of people gave me their blood.
Who extracted their blood for you?
I couldn't find a doctor that would do it, but a guy named Ryan Kavanaugh who owns a company called Relativity found a doctor and paid for it as a gift. I think it might be the nicest gift anyone's ever given me.
What else do you want to do?
I want to sail around the world by myself on an actual sailboat with no engine.
Is photography a passing thing for you?
No, no. Photography is something that I always want to do. It is literally to me the perfect art form because you can do it anywhere, any time, all you literally need is a camera. The freedom is just insane.
The gallery that you show with in London, A Gallery, is reportedly affiliated with the Church of Scientology. Do you have any affiliation with the church?
Did you know that A Gallery was affiliated?
Yeah. I've heard about this. But to me, I have a lot of friends that are Scientologists. It doesn't even.... It's the same thing like, "Did you know this person is a Christian?" And it's like, "Ok, cool, what does that matter to me?" People have their religion, they have their things, they do whatever they want. It doesn't matter to me at all.
How did you come to show with them?
They approached me. Fraser [Kee Scott], the guy who runs that gallery, he found me back in the MySpace days. He is a very, very fucking smart guy and he has a great eye for things. He worked at my last gallery and to my knowledge he wasn't promoting Scientology to anybody, he was trying to sell art. I saw the last "Mission Impossible," and they said that was Tom Cruise trying to promoting Scientology, but I just saw a bunch of people getting shot at and that was fun. I think people's religion is their own business. That's their business.
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