KING OF DRAMA
Widely known for burning Hermes Birkins, drawing celebrities blood and a little black book full of celebrity muses, American Photographer Tyler Shields proves to be making waves in contemporary art circles.
WORDS BY JOSHUA HORTINELA & IMAGES BY TYLER SHIELDS
For years, we’ve been viewers to Tyler Shields provocative representation of luxury, celebrity and even a little bit of blood. What is it that makes Shield’s work so intriguing? For some, the provoking imagery pushes the boundaries of what it is to be considered art and is something that would not want to be viewed as a constant. When the American photographer, director and writer found himself photographing celebrities in the studio with the unconventional use of items such as luxury goods to raw meat, he found himself making quite an impact and name in the art scene.
An impact that has seen Shields follow through on his vision and paid off in creating something unique enabling him to realise his creative imagination. Looking back to some of his earlier works, the photographs retain a studio-based practice featuring the likes of Lindsay Lohan and the cast of Glee. Perhaps a well recognised piece is his image of Lohan drowsed in blood and swinging a knife. Another development in Shield’s photographs is the key involvement of luxury brands, such as burning the famous Hermes Birkin bag or feeding one to the likes of an alligator. Nonetheless, the aesthetics and avant-garde style pose Shields as an innovative, rule breaking and new class photographer. What might be considered risqué for those more interested in photographs of fruit in a bowl can be considered an industry revival that defies the boundaries and is that something different that we want to see.
From luxury, blood, to the use of celebrities how did it all start?
It all started with an idea, the idea was to do something different, something my own way and when I started everyone told me I was crazy I met with magazines and other publications and was essentially rejected by all of them. From there I realized a fun fact, the internet was coming and fast so I set out to do my own thing and that’s when I discovered fine art, the idea that you can shoot whatever you want and people can collect it and put it on their walls seemed like a dream at first but as the first print sold I was hooked from there the idea of doing galleries which is a whole other monster on its own was the next thing I knew I needed to focus on. As for the items and people I was never interested in celebrity as much as talent, celebrity is a label, a celebrity today can be nothing tomorrow, while talent is a commodity, it is something tangible you can loose it certainly but its much harder to loose celebrity then it is to loose talent. So to answer it all started a shot down dream that men of power tried to destroy before it ever became a reality but the best dreams are the ones you fight for.
Talk me through the day in the life of Tyler Shields.
No two days are the same right now i am sitting in room 2005 on the 20th floor of the virgin hotel in Chicago a few hours ago I was having a conversation with a women about her 9 children in a dairy queen out side of Gary, Indiana. Some days are spent shooting where anything from blowing up a car to having planes fly over head at 10 feet above the ground can happen some days are spent 20 hours straight at a computer (had to get a standing desk because it was killing me) Some days are spent going through prints, I suppose the only thing you could say is there is never a dull day, never an off day but that is exactly how I like it, I have a lot of ideas and its not possible to do them all at once so learning how to do them when the time is right that was always the trick.
Tell me about one of your most memorable shoots/experience and why?
That's very tough, the photo titled "lynching" was a pretty crazy day because we went out with the idea to hang a KKK member and as it was happening this man is naked in front of me while another man hangs from a tree and I am deep in a pond trying to get the camera right above the water and at that moment a hiker walked by and saw us we all froze but i realized he could not see me as I was covered by bushes so with any luck in his mind he thought he walked right into a episode of the twilight zon
What are you inspired by right now?
France between 1780-1790
What is your all time favorite destination?
London is one of my favourite places in the world I certainly enjoy the city but the friends I have made there make it for me.
What’s next on your itinerary?
I am finishing up my new book, which will be out next year, a new gallery in London in November and maybe shark diving over Christmas
An elegant delicacy, to some people luxury is water to others its a sports car. I think luxury is only what you need it to be.
What made you choose photography?
I didn't choose it, it chose me. It just happened one day I was not making photographs then the next day it was all I wanted to do.
How and why did the introduction of celebrities come to be?
I have a lot of friends who are actors, when we started not many of them were successful but over time they have become very successful, its so great for me to see them follow their dreams and find them. For me its about making a world because most of the time the world i want does not exist so I have to create it and what better when creating a world out of your imagination then people who play in other worlds for a living.
Do you have a close relationship with many of your art buyers/clients? If so why do you think that is?
Some of them I have never met, some of them I am very close with. I love people and I am fascinated by all types so to be able to meet people and have the conversations I have been able to have with collectors is incredible it has shaped my work for sure, I just spent 2 days staying with a friend/ collector of mine the last time I was at his house I came up with the idea for the lynching photo and now its in the room where I first came up with it in. Seeing something that once was only a thought hung in someone’s house is a feeling that can not be described but I will tell you this it makes you want to do more and be better at everything you do, because unlike a TV or a computer or a phone you can't turn off the art on the wall it is on display for all to see at all times.
What influences your work?
The people in my life the people I meet the conversations you have they can really shape you if you let them.
Most challenging work to date?
Whatever is next.