The X-games inline skater turned photographer Tyler Shields has been fueling pop-cultural debate for a while now. The general public first caught a glimpse of the man-child on the reality show about Clint Eastwood’s family, “Mrs. Eastwood and Company” (in which – side note – Eastwood was conspicuously absent). At the time, Shields was dating young Francesca Eastwood. And by young, we mean it. She was 18 at the time, while Shields was 30.
His recent string of bizarre and highly controversial photo shoots with celeb ladies hints at the decidedly blurred lines of appropriate behaviour in the artistic realm in which Shields resides. Shields artistic merit has also been called into question, cited by Vice Magazine Canada as “lame art for douchebags.” The photographer’s photos offer in-your-face, heavy handed symbolism (think burning a $100,000 Birkin bag) and his aggressive approach to his art has secured Shields a fairly significant following in the LA art & social scene.
His less talked about, high glamour artistic shots are quite lovely, and showcase a clear and creative visual eye. But his recent photos are all about deflowering the innocence of young Hollywood, and his aptly titled book, “The Dirty Side of Glamour,” was published by HarperCollins in 2013. Fans of Shields have called his work “provocative” but seem to automatically go to the tried and true defence that it depicts the dark side of celebrity and “shines a light on society’s obsessions.” Cynics would state that this approach gets old pretty quickly. Especially considering the somewhat overworked themes of guns, blood and money are used repeatedly in Sheilds’ work. The similarity in themes can come across as a lazy way of telling an already redundant story and the celebrity portraits tend to lack an individualistic approach to the subjects themselves.
Taste aside, Shields is super hot right now. When we had a privileged glimpse into his persona in reality TV land we saw moments of simultaneously charm and almost sociopathic disturbance, which really sums up his entire body of work. Is his art lame, or is it subversive? Does Shields’ work warrant the title of ‘art’ because it- undeniably – evokes strong reactions, whether it be from haters or fans? This list of 10 of the photographer’s most controversial shoots highlights some of Shields’ more risqué portraits in an effort to glean insight into a visual style that seems to garner controversy for controversy’s sake. Is there more to it than that? You decide.
10. Alessandra Torresani
As one of his muses, Torresani has a fair share of photos courtesy of Shields in her NSFW portfolio. Voted the Sexiest Sci Fi girl of the year in 2010 by Entertainment Weekly, Torresani, who played Zoe Graystone in “Caprica,” certainly played up the sexy angle with Shields. From intense bathroom makeout scenes, to licking a lollipop that is positioned protruding from out of a male crotch, there’s no doubt she likes shock value as much as his next muse. But the photo of her in black lingerie, looking like a blow-up doll on all fours, under the bloody hands of a man in a suit, is pretty much the icing on top of the shocker cake.
Tyler has said on his website, “… a muse is someone who truly gets you in an intense way and loves to be a part of what your [sic] creating no 1 [sic] person gains more then [sic] the other as you both get exactly what you want which is to create something priceless…” Well, if not priceless, this photo is certainly something.
9. Mickey Mouse
The picture of a Mickey Mouse-like character about to shoot a half-naked woman with an automatic weapon definitely raised some eyebrows. Shields has admitted his own fascination with guns, which show up in many of his photographs. Referring to these killer mouse shots Tyler wrote on his website rather mysteriously, “No matter how hard you try to be what your not you cant you are what you are,” [sic] and he went on to add that “it’s not the gun you have to worry about, it’s the bullets.”
While his messaging seems to be a bit all over the map, that kind of hyperactive discord could also be his modus operandi as an artist, as critics might state that he himself doesn’t have a clear point so he takes to confusing the viewer into believing there is subtext.
8. Demi Lovato
Former Disney starlet Demi Lovato went bad girl for Shields’ risqué shoot, when she posed suggestively with a lollypop and smashed a glass vase. While less disturbing visually than some of his others, the pic is still jarring given the subject was fresh out of rehab at the time. Tyler told media, “I had her smashing shit and she really liked it. She’s fun, a really sweet girl.”
He said she “got it” when he wanted to show that there are always two sides to story, and that her understanding came from her own struggles in the spotlight. Comments on Shields’ site have thrown flames from two camps: one side feels the photos are too provocative, the other side insists she’s a grown woman and can do what she likes. Whatever your opinion on the photos, they certainly provoked a reaction.
7. Hayden Panettiere
Images of Hayden Panettiere naked from the waist up and licking an M16 machine gun is just one startling image in her collaborations with Shields. The photographer has said that his interest in shoots like these comes from wanting to show people a different side of the world. While clearly this kind of image is not a real life part of Panettiere’s “world,” we can assume Shields means, rather, the celebrity world – another example of his ever-present “cult of celebrity” theme.
6. Emma Roberts
Biting into $100,000, rubbing dollar bills on herself, and touching human brains are just a couple of the stranger photo shoots Emma Roberts has undertaken with Shields, all while wearing some revealing outfits, red lipstick and the general expression of not giving a damn.
Some less controversial and more interesting photos called “Suspension” involve her floating in mid-air. Shields also took some lovely shots of her and her fiancé, and Roberts is clearly friends with the photog – sometimes snapped out and about with him by the paparazzi. She even penned the intro to his book, stating, “Tyler Shields saved my life, right after he almost killed me,” going on to describe the shoot of her falling through the air after jumping off a bridge.
5. Tamara Ecclestone
The British socialite Tamara Ecclestone, daughter of Formula One’s Bernie Ecclestone, was photographed by Shields naked on her bed at home, in a pile of money. Tyler told the press, “I said to her, ‘You need to get one million in cash and she said ok, can you come on Friday?'” This seeming obsession with the juxtaposition of showcasing huge amounts of money in a careless light likely comes partly from Shields’ own childhood. According to reports, he was the main breadwinner for the family, with a handicapped father, and was out making money as a skateboarder by his young teens.
Needless to say, after posting the pics of Ecclestone covered in bills on his website, Tyler characteristically fell a bit short with his ability to tell a story through pictures when he wrote, “Tamara Ecclestone is a Billionaire heiress but there is much more to her then [sic] money…”
4. AJ Mclean
While one memorable photo of Mclean dressed in drag is charming and arresting, it’s not nearly as controversial as the one Shields took of the former boy-band member posing with a machine gun and his fiancé. Apparently both men seem fond of weapons – and each other. Shields officiated the couple’s wedding and told media he carried a machine gun while doing so.
“It was a machine gun wedding,” Tyler said. As far as the photo of AJ in drag, he says it was an idea formed during the lead up to the singer’s nuptials and he wanted to place McLean in the dirtiest surroundings possible, so he made him walk Skid Row in Louboutins. They took the shoot even further with naked AJ in only the heels posing on a hotel bed. These two have taken Bromance to whole other level!
3. Lindsay Lohan
There are an awful lot of bizarre Lohan photos to choose from, almost all of them depicting her covered in blood and wielding weapons. The one that seemed to generate the most buzz was a picture of her in her underwear, splashed in the red stuff all over the wall behind her while she wields a knife. According to Shields it was the first day he shot her and she told him she wanted to incorporate blood. She initially put a bit on her mouth but the photographer pushed her to go crazy and made her throw it on the wall.
“She got it immediately,” he’s explained to the press, while once again failing to elucidate exactly what “it” is. He said the pictures coincided with her unravelling. “This was at the time where everyone was like, ‘She’s going to die,’ and I was like, ‘Let’s play with that.'” Lohan actually had to comment on the photos when she appeared in court soon after, when she defended the images as art.
2. Mischa Barton
The pics of Mischa Barton being teased with raw meat takes even the most basic of feminist principles back about 25 years but hey, at least she “got it,” according to Shields. “She understands what it is I’m doing, and has fun with it. She’s amazing. I mean she had raw meat on her face.” Abject female degradation aside, the photo also gained a fair bit of backlash from PETA which, according to Shields, both he and Mischa found highly amusing.
“Honestly like, Mischa Barton didn’t kill the cow,” he’s said, defending himself against accusations of the photoshoot’s pro-animal slaughter messaging. “You know, she didn’t brutally murder a cow, she didn’t do anything like that. I bought a steak at a grocery store.” So, then, we likely shouldn’t infer the “wrong” ideas from his photos, since his guns all come from the gun store, and his fake blood all comes from the fake blood store and therefore… his photos should be taken less seriously? If that’s what he’s trying get at, this seems a bit at odds with the photographer’s clearly defined goal of “being an artist.”
1. Heather Morris
In further apparently misunderstood shots from Shields, people got the wrong idea about Glee star Heather Morris‘ depiction of a beat-up Barbie. Because apparently there is a wrong way to understand art. When Morris apparently told Shields she wanted to do a Barbie-themed shoot he was initially going to get a pink corvette and blow it up, but he said they were really hard to find.
“So we ended up doing her as bruised Barbie, and people just… you know, there were some people who saw that and thought that I gave her a black eye for real,” he told media. “I got 25,000 death threats because of that photo shoot.” Once again, Shields has to explain to us the meaning of his photographs. Certainly, everyone has a right to their own self-expression. But Shields may want to consider trying to say something meaningful with it, rather than continuing to captain the destruction of established morality for the sake of attention.