Tyler Shields is one of those unique artists whose work becomes iconic the instant it’s released – his images are immediately recognizable as indicative of modern American life. His photographs are characterized by a lux, stylized, and decadent aesthetic within which swirls a subversive undercurrent of violence and eroticism. He explores themes surrounding the grotesque decadence of modern society, the violence of celebrity culture, and the eroticization of the female image.
Looking through the LA-based artist’s photographs, one sees his creation of a new type of photographic fiction. He portrays narratives that are embedded in a slightly twisted reality, and anchored the authentic and emotive performances of his collaborators. He frequently works with actors and celebrities like Lindsay Lohan, Emma Roberts, Demi Lovato, and Mischa Barton.
Shields has the ability to capture the height of drama in his scenes — the moment when a true, powerful emotion is perfectly expressed. He wants his scenes to be authentic, without the use of stunt men or too much Photoshop. It’s perhaps for this reason that his images produce such controversy, and such intense responses from viewers. He once notoriously received 25,000 death threats after depicting a Glee actor with a black eye, even though it was created entirely with make-up. His images are no more violent or sexualized than what is on TV or in advertising, but the end products somehow always feel more realistic.
Throughout his career, his work has depicted subjects as varied as: a starlet covered in blood, a real human heart pierced by a knife, the destruction of a $100,000 Hérmes bag, an African American lynching a KKK member, and high-heel wearing women pepper spraying police. One could be forgiven for thinking the artist courts controversy as a publicity tool.
However, it’s interesting that some of his more recent series rely less on the shock and awe of blood and violence as he delves into concepts of historical and intellectual significance. His most recent series, Decadence, was shot on a 50-year-old 8 x 10 camera, as well as on Hasselblads, and depicts scenes from Marie Antoinette’s court, but with little touches of Tyler Shields madness sprinkled in there too.
Regardless of whether one finds his content offensive, there’s no denying that he makes his audience feel something, which is no small feat. Whether it’s disbelief, disgust, excitement, or lust, he knows how to make viewers experience emotion.