"My pictures have always tried to tell stories," he told Sunday Morning correspondent Serena Altschul. "They always have a narrative and a story in my mind. There's a reason for it. So I've always felt like a storyteller."
Altschul recently visited LaChapelle's Los Angeles studio, where he was working in what looked liked the set of a Hollywood disaster film. That was no coincidence: LaChapelle says he tries to make images that look like frames plucked from a movie. He then leaves it up to viewers to decide just what kind of movie they're seeing — whether it be a comedy, drama, horror movie or even an adult film.
Considering his penchant for pushing the boundaries of taste, it may come as a surprise that LaChapelle is one of the world's most in-demand photographers and directors for advertising and publishing. His imprint is everywhere — from an MTV commercial that satirized stars Courtney Love and Madonna, to the music videos he directs for pop sensation Christina Aguilera. His touch can also be seen in the bright colors and surrealist humor of a Burger King ad. LaChapelle says he is proud to produce "pop art."
He shares that sentiment with his mentor, Andy Warhol — the definitive pop artist. In the mid-'80s, just out of high school and looking for work, LaChapelle brashly approached Warhol with his portfolio.
"I just remember showing him my photographs of my friends from high school and him saying, 'Oh, these are great. These are great,' LaChapelle said. "I didn't realize at the time that was a word he used a lot, you know? 'This cookie's great.' And, 'Oh, the shoes are great.' And he didn't mean it in a — he wasn't blasé. He really thought everything was great."
But Warhol made good on his praise, giving LaChapelle a job at "Interview" magazine. By the late 90's, LaChapelle had become the "It" photographer of the pop pantheon. Every pose became more outrageous, and his subjects loved him for it. A LaChapelle photo was a badge of being hip – and brave. He specialized in sexy ingénues, and his "Vanity Fair" spread of Paris Hilton helped launch her career.
"I'm sure there are people who are shocked by his work, or remain uncomfortable by his work. It's loud and brassy and it's in-your-face," director of the International Center of Photography, Willis Hartshorn, said. "To have your portrait done by him is to collaborate with him. And it's very clear from the product that you see the kind of paces you're going to be put through ... If that's the way you want to be seen you'll get it. And it'll be extraordinary. There's no question."