David LaChapelle designed the posters for this year’s Life Ball in Austria. Those posters (NSFW!) - featuring a nude Carmen Carrera with both male and female genitalia - attracted controversy, complaints and a lawsuit. Now LaChapelle has responded.
The posters are an expression of this year’s Life Ball theme, ‘The Garden of Earthly Delights’, and depict Carmen Carrera as both Adam and Eve across the two variants of the poster. Those posters have been posted on streets, bus stops, train stations and billboards across Vienna ahead of the HIV/AIDS fundraiser and, unsurprisingly, have attracted some unwelcome attention.
Austrian far-right group the Freedom Party of Austria are suing the Life Ball over the campaign, accusing the posters of being pornographic. Meanwhile, people have been tearing posters down, vandalising them, painting over them and more. LaChapelle insists that his intent was never to offend or cause controversy, saying that “We kept it very natural, very different from what you’d expect from a Life Ball poster. It’s just meant to be beautiful.”
He explained that his intent was to capture the beauty of someone with both male and female attributes, someone who was going through transition but wasn’t ashamed of it:
“I’ve always wanted to do that, so I was very excited. I wanted to photograph a woman in the nude, and capture a goddess that’s both male and female. I wanted someone who’s undergoing that transition, before the full operation, or who had decided to keep their penis. It’s a sensitive subject, but I wanted someone who was not going to be ashamed about that, whether she’s in transition, or she whether was going to continue living as a woman with male genitalia. I was really to get this idea of a beautiful being that possesses both male and female attributes.”
Discussing wider representations of trans people in art, LaChapelle wondered why it is that they’re deemed so shocking:
“We’re aware of centaurs and mermaids in the history of art. Those sculptures and paintings are beautiful, but the idea of a human being who is half-man and half-animal is a bit more horrific that someone whose body is both female and male, don't you think? You’re crossing species lines, and that doesn’t freak anybody out. But the idea of a woman having both sexes in one body, that somehow sets out alarm bells.”
Meanwhile, he seemed upbeat about the poster campaign, saying that he thinks that “ the majority is happy with the poster, but there’s this loud minority of people who are just fascist about the human body.” He noted that, “The posters may get defaced, but they will just be replaced, and they will still be up for another month after the Life Ball.”