Tyler Shields On Shooting a Bloody Lindsay Lohan and His Wild New Photo Book
The L.A.-based shutterbug tells us about his wild life behind the camera.
Every now and then, you come across the work of someone who makes you want to scrap all your life plans and start anew in a radically different profession. Los Angeles-based shutterbug Tyler Shields, who’s made his name photographing the rich and famous covered in fake blood and donning dominatrix gear, is #careergoals of the highest order.
Tyler’s hyperrealistic imagery landed him on the radars of pop culture aficionados in 2011, when he debuted a shocking series of troubled star Lindsay Lohan in her underwear, splattered in blood and wielding a butcher knife.
“She must have been the most popular, if not the most photographed, person in the public eye at that time. People were like, ‘Oh, she’s gonna die’ and this and that. There was a lot of crazy speculation,” Tyler told us. “So when we put it out of her covered in blood, it just went crazy.”
It gets crazier. His photographs of Mischa Barton licking raw meat prompted death threats; he and Francesca Eastwood, Clint’s daughter, chainsawed a $100,000 Birkin bag in half for the sake of art; and he most recently unleashed some seriously #NSFW nudes of Tallulah Willis, the 22-year-old daughter of Demi Moore and Bruce Willis, onto an unsuspecting world.
Many of these images are featured in his upcoming retrospective photo book Provocateur, which hit shelves on Jan. 3, 2017. Here are some highlights:
So how did a skater kid from Florida become one of the most prolific shock photographers in the world, even drawing comparisons to the great Andy Warhol? How does this relatively polite and unassuming guy convince Hollywood’s young power players to surrender themselves to his daring and freewheeling concepts? And what is he getting at anyway?
Maxim recently caught up with Tyler, before the release of Provocateur, to discuss his enviable career, his greatest hits (Lindsay included), his impressive Rolodex of celebrity friends, and how many people he’s managed to piss off in the process.
How do you get such big names to work with you?
From the beginning, it wasn’t about people being famous. The thing I like about using actors is that they can act. In the beginning, I started shooting people like Aaron Paul when he had only been in one commercial. Then as he grew and I grew, the people I started working with started becoming bigger—and so have my projects. Then that just attracts more people.
How did you first get hooked up with Lindsay Lohan?
I was at the Chateau Marmont, where I think she was living at the time, and an actress friend of mine was there, and she said, “Oh, have you met Lindsay? She’s a fan of your work.” So I went over and met her, and she was like, “We should do something.” And I was like, “Okay, come over Tuesday night, and we’ll shoot.” It was that simple. It wasn’t like, “Have your people reach out to my people.”
How was she to work with?
That was the first time where I had somebody who really had no inhibitions about putting something out there that might cause a stir. People get very caught up in not wanting the media to say anything bad about them. For her, that’s obviously a double-edged sword, because the press really tried to eat her alive back then. I remember being in a car with her, and we were being chased by… I don’t even know the number of cars—maybe thirty or forty. That’s a crazy life I don’t think people really understand.
Why did you decide to cover her in blood?
I’d love to say, “Oh, we calculated it weeks before.” But the truth is there was a photograph in my house at the time of Matt Dallas, who’s an actor, with blood on him, and she was like, “I want to do something with blood.” So I said, “Let’s cover my whole living room in blood,” and she was like, “Okay, cool!” and then we did it. But once I saw the blood everywhere and her in front of it, I was like, “Okay, this is crazy.” Sometimes the best stuff happens from the simplest idea.
Was photographing Mischa Barton with raw meat also spur-of-the-moment?
Mischa and I were supposed to meet at a diner in L.A. called Fred 62, and we both got there early and sat on other sides of the diner waiting for the other to come in. Neither one of us ever saw each other so she called me, and I was like, “Hey! I was at Fred 62,” and she was like, “I was too.” So I picked her up in my car, and she said, “Let’s not go back there because we sat there for 20 minutes and neither of us ate.” So we went to In-N-Out, and I was watching her eat a hamburger, and I was like, “I gotta shoot you with raw meat.” She just laughed, and I said, “No, I’m serious.”
Was she as chill as Lindsay was about the shoot?
She really got it, and she let me do whatever I wanted. When things go big or a story blows up, sometimes people freak out, but Mischa was the opposite. When it went big and we started getting death threats, she loved it. She thought it was great.
Death threats? What for?
People were angry about the meat. I got one email from a women’s vegan or vegetarian group that told me they were going to hunt me down and club me like a baby seal and feed me to myself… which I thought was great. They just made the story bigger, which was really funny.
How are you so unbothered by backlash?
I always say that a negative comment is just a compliment that took longer to write. If someone’s gonna spend this time to hate you, they’re spending more time than the person who’s like, “Oh, I really like this,” or, “I love this.” People write these long diatribes about how angry you’ve made them, and that’s what art is all about. I think it’s impossible to make art everyone loves unless you show only five people, and you’re related to them.
The most vitriol I’ve read directed at you was in regards to the Birkin bag shoot with Francesca Eastwood. Was that her bag you destroyed?
That was actually a bag given to me by one of my art collectors, and it was a $100,000 Birkin bag. Now in my defense, I’m a poor kid from Florida. Obviously I knew what it was, but I thought, “How well are these things even made?” People are paying an exorbitant amount of money for these things, and do they hold up? So we had the Birkin, and Francesca said, “Can I just keep it for a couple of days and play around with it?” I was like, “Yeah yeah, but you know we’re gonna set it on fire, right?” She was like, “Wait… do we have to do that? Can I just keep it?” And I said, “No.”
How was it to finally saw it in half and light it on fire?
We chainsawed the Birkin at first—we put a chainsaw right down the middle of it and sawed it in half. And I’m telling you, it was still standing up straight. I was like, “Wow!” It was really impressive, actually. But nothing holds up to the fire. And after we documented it, it just exploded. Some very, very big collectors in the world bought those prints for a lot of money.
Your recent shots of Tallulah Willis are very graphic. Are they your most sexually provocative yet?
I think so. I definitely have nudes like that of pretty much everyone, but that was the first time I released them in that way.
Why did you pick those of her?
We probably had 10, and I asked, “Which of these are your favorites?” and those were her favorites. I told her before, “This might go everywhere. Once it goes out, we can’t really control it.” And she was all about it. She said, “If it’s gonna go, let it be as big as it’s gonna be.”
Did Bruce or Demi ever weigh in?
I know Demi, and she’s been nothing but supportive of me. She’s been on many of the shoots. Demi walked in on one not too long ago for a project with Scout Willis, where she had a man tied to a post and was whipping him. I was shooting on an old camera that Annie Leibovitz used to shoot Demi on the cover of Vanity Fair. So Demi walked in and didn’t say a word about the man tied up or anything. She just went, “I know that camera! I’ve done a lot with that.” I was like, “I know you have!”
You must have pissed off some people’s family members down the line. Boyfriends, maybe?
I’ve had people show up to shoots that are like, “My parents are excited about this,” and I’ve had some show up with their boyfriends texting them the whole time freaking out. It just depends. I shot this one actress a lot, and we were really good friends, but she had gotten this boyfriend. She was like, “Can you take down all these photos? He’s going crazy.” And I said, “No! That’s stupid! This is just ridiculous.” And we got into an argument about it, and I said, “Look! The boyfriend is gonna come, and he’s gonna go.” So about a week later she ends up getting booked in a very, very big movie because the director saw the photos on my website, and I said, “See!” And now here we are five years later, and I can assume you know whether or not the boyfriend is still there.
Do you have a dream celebrity to shoot?
I never like to get caught up in the people of the moment. Gigi Hadid is probably the biggest person of the moment, and I think she has posted one of my photos before on Instagram. But I never want to chase people, and I rarely like to go into shooting someone without knowing or meeting them. There are a lot of people I could make great stuff with, but you never know until you meet them.
Why did you choose the title Provocateur for your photo book?
“Provocateur” is something people started calling me a couple of years ago. I always thought it was such a funny press title. You’re never going to see an article that says, “Really nice guy takes pretty pictures.” But it makes sense, and it was encompassing for the book.
When did you finally embrace the term?
People always ask me and want me to explain in every detail how and why I did something, and I never like to do that. Obviously, I have no problem telling stories and saying this or that happened, but people always want to know “the socioeconomic reason of why I set this thing on fire.” I always say, “Listen! It’s not my job to explain it or tell you what you should think about it. It’s my job to make it.” That’s what a provocateur does.
See more of Tyler Shield’s brilliant, batty oeuvre when Provocateur debuts on Jan. 3, 2017.