Versailles Meets Hollywood in Tyler Shields’s “Decadence”

Feb 4, 2016 5:54PM

Los Angeles-based photographer Tyler Shields made an entrance in London this week. Ahead the opening of his new exhibition “Decadence,” Shields took to the streets in a horse-drawn carriage and rode through Piccadilly Circus, accompanied by a pair of women draped in Marie Antoinette-style attire and powdered wigs. The spectacle was a befitting preview of the photographer’s latest works, which are now on view at Mayfair’s Maddox Gallery, presented in collaboration with Imitate Modern.

Shields has built his career around capturing famous people in provocative poses. One such individual is Lindsay Lohan, who Shields has famously photographed with a gun in her mouth, wielding a knife, or smeared in blood (Lohan was present at the London exhibition’s opening).

As the elegant ladies in Shields’s horse-drawn carriage suggest, there are no bloodied starlets or simulated murder scenes in “Decadence.” The photographs evoke an era gone by; the images have the look and feel of classical paintings, but with a clarity and crispness that could only be realized by a camera. Shields used two, in fact—a vintage large-format camera and a Hasselblad. He’s often worked with the latter, even writing a “love letter” to what he calls the “big, heavy camera” on his blog. “After shooting with the Hasselblad once,” he wrote, “I was hooked. It was the exact tool I never knew I needed. This camera not only changed the way I had to shoot, it changed me. It changed my idea of possibility. It forced me to have patience.”

Ladies-in-waiting, 2015
Imitate Modern

Patience paid off in the Hollywood-meets-Versailles-style “Decadence,” a sumptuous and aptly titled collection. The scenes he depicts are extravagant and sensuous, some in a classical way—like the ladies congregating around a table of exquisite cakes in Aristocracy (all works 2015), or the aerial view of the women’s elaborate wigs and couture in Ladies-in-waiting—and others in an edgier manner. There’s the nude woman splayed out before the banquet table in Let Them Drink Champagne and a young man leaping through the salon, a thoroughly unconventional pose for a classical painting, in Jump

The Marie Antoinette references are hardly subtle, and if you take a closer look at the models featured in “Decadence,” you’ll notice a few famous faces, at least if you’re a regular reader of Vogue. Lydia Hearst, Jaime King and Tallulah Willis all make appearances, corseted and peering out from beneath towering powdered-wig poufs.

Glamour, beauty, fame, hedonism, scandal, rendered in high detail and with an unmistakable sense of humor—the works are filled with Shields’s signature style, which knows no boundary.

Bridget Gleeson

Decadence” is on view at Maddox Gallery, 9 Maddox Street, Mayfair, London, Feb. 4–21, 2016.

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