David LaChapelle, who was born and raised in rural Connecticut, got his start in the feverish art scene of 1980s New York. After a rough few years — he lost his boyfriend in the decade’s AIDS epidemic — he was invited by Andy Warhol to shoot for Interview magazine.
Over the next 18 years, he became one of the world’s top celebrity photographers, with work that was intensely colorful and irreverent. In one photo, he branded the rapper Lil’ Kim’s naked body with Louis Vuitton logos; in another, he portrayed Michael Jackson as Jesus.
It was the kind of glamorous life that many would have milked for as long as possible. But in 2006, LaChapelle retired from commercial photography and moved to Maui, where he lives on an 18-acre farm that produces goat’s milk and 10 different types of chili peppers.
“I wanted to do some work specifically for China and inspired by it, kind of like China seen through Western eyes,” says LaChapelle, who has recently won a new generation of admirers in Asia. He considers Lee a particularly potent symbol, given the way he transcended cultural barriers to become an international star.
Perhaps the most interesting work is “Bruce Lee,” which pays homage to the Chinese-American kung fu film star with a series of three hyper-saturated photographs. Though the photos appear to be digital collages, they were created almost entirely on set, using a variety of props and backdrops.