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I was recently in Cincinnati Ohio for my latest gallery and while i was there I visited Country Day and did an interview with a 16 year old by the name of Margaret Hodson, she was more informed and asked me some of my favorite questions i have ever been asked, it was quite the experience her research was better then quite a few veteran journalists whom have interviewed me! So I thought I would post this as I don’t know if you plans to be a journalist but if she does someone should snatch her up soon, as she is a diamond in the rough…
I had to edit this slightly to fit on the page…
Provocateur Tyler Shields Visits Country Day
By Margaret Hodson ’16, Perspectives Section Co-Editor
Caption: Photograph by Tyler Shields
I really did think someone was going to pass out. In our fame-obsessed culture, the notion of celebrity-induced fainting isn’t out of the ordinary. It was normal for nerves to be running high; After all, a world-renown photographer and provocateur extraordinaire was about to enter the halls of Cincinnati Country Day School. There was some quick-footed jumping up and down and lots of high-pitched squealing. The students assembled outside of the dining terrace were on edge waiting for Tyler Shields to walk through the front door.
Perhaps the most amazing part of Tyler’s visit was how quickly the nerves were soothed. His presence is not at all imposing or haughty, but very down-to-earth. He didn’t come with a large entourage but did bring actress friend Ana Mulvoy-Ten, a model in many of his pictures. She’s also well-known for her role as Amber Millington on Nickelodeon’s House of Anubis. Tyler also brought with him lots of stories: some funny, some serious, and all fascinating. The almost hour-long Q&A session was like a conversation with a close friend, albeit one that has jumped off an oil tanker and broken into a building. Tyler–not Mr. Shields–had an open and honest manner about him that it put the entire group at ease. While a group of around 30 Country Day students sat on the carpeted floor of Messer Gallery, Tyler sat nonchalantly on the stairs, elbows resting casually on knees. It was in this relaxed position that he delivered some of the most out-of-this-world stories I have ever heard.
For starters, there was the time Tyler was almost robbed by some gang members in a “questionable” part of town. Although his camera cost $40,000, he managed to convince the men that it was completely worthless. He recalls saying, “This is an old film camera, nobody cares about this! You should steal some digital cameras.” Although Tyler was shooed off the street, he left unscathed with camera in tow.
The same cannot always be said for those he shoots with. He said, “I find that a lot of people live under the context of fear, and I don’t like that.” Shooting with Tyler, his models are forced to confront and overcome this fear. When that happens, “people will have these very visceral experiences.” He noted that “people will have these crazy moments of clarity where whatever it is inside them they’ve released. They’re just like, ‘I want to do that again.’ You then start pushing things and pushing things.”
It’s not just photographs of near-life experience that have brought Tyler Shields international recognition. He’s also famous for, well, pushing things, often with pictures of celebrities in scenes ridden with blood, knives, guns, and nudity. Many of these photographs come from the book The Dirty Side of Glamour, published in November of 2013. Some of his more controversial images are Glee’s Heather Morris with a black eye, Mischa Barton biting a piece of raw meat, Lindsey Lohan covered in blood and brandishing a knife, and of Ana Mulvoy-Ten playing Birkin tug-of-war with an alligator. He’s also shot celebrities like Emma Roberts, Josh Hutchinson, Francesca Eastwood, and Zachary Quinto, often in controversial settings, scenes, or poses.
Tyler doesn’t shoot pictures just to shock the audience. As he pointed out, the reaction to his images all depends on perception. He astutely noted, “I think a lot of people make things precious. When we did the Birkin thing, people go crazy about that. But that only exists because it’s precious. The moment that you don’t allow things to be precious, it doesn’t really affect you.” For Shields, a Birkin bag may be $100,000 dollars, but that doesn’t make it special or even valuable. He wanted to see how well-built Birkins are, so he took a chainsaw to one unfortunate red crocodile-skin purse. His conclusion? “It was actually well-made.” After the chainsaw failed to completely obliterate the bag, he thought, “I can’t be bested by a purse.” That’s when he lit the bag on fire: it burnt to a crisp, but it did take a while. Although that particular Birkin turned to ash in the end, he still has the Birkin that was used during the alligator shoot with Ms. Mulvoy-Ten. In said shoot, Ana is biting one side of the Birkin with her teeth while the alligator bites the other side. The bag has some teeth-marks in it but surfaced relatively unscathed. Regarding the current use of the bag, Tyler explained, “I will only let that bag be used to carry water bottles on shoots in bad areas. Never used in a nice restaurant or anything like that. Only if it’s going to be in the mud or in the dirt.”
Naturally, not everyone agreed with Tyler’s handling of the Birkin. Despite some of the negative comments regarding his work, Tyler is not fazed by the opinions of others. He said, “If somebody hates it, then that’s great!…You want opinions, and they’re not always going to be good.” He thinks many people are too sensitive to criticism, when in reality they should embrace both criticism and naysayers. Many people have told Tyler “no,” but he said, “I love it when people say ‘impossible, can never happen’, because they don’t really know that. You’re the only person that knows what you’re capable of.” He stressed the importance of hard work, saying “If you’re not willing to struggle, then it’s not going to work.” He also talked about education, more specifically his own experience in middle school. His teachers weren’t very invested in the success of their students, and he said it was difficult to be self-motivated in that environment. He did not have a chance to continue his education past middle school, but instead went to work supporting his family. All of this has caused Tyler to value education even more. Speaking of Country Day, he said, “A place like this, this is a miracle.” He reminded students to be thankful for teachers thoroughly invested in their success.
Tyler’s latest controversy-stirring body of work is called provocateur. The word is French for inciting agent, meaning a person that entices another to commit an illegal or rash act. Tyler said, “That word might be the best word that fits the description of what I do. A lot of the times we do things that push people past their comfort zone.” This undoubtedly leads to some crazy situations. With Tyler, the crazy situations are more than just stories told to high-schoolers. They are photos and pictures, taken with a film or digital camera but always strikingly real despite their posed nature. Nothing feels forced, and this is partially because Tyler believes “You have to leave room for the unknown. And I also just hate it when people are over-prepared. It’s just no fun.” For this reason, he may tell models the location of a shoot by never specifics. Although his images never feel forced, they are very thoughtful and deliberate. He explained,” There’s a moment when you stop taking pictures and you start making them. And that’s when it becomes a whole different experience.”
This a philosophy of making-not-taking pictures is something JC Vogt (’16) and Astrid Gross-Hutton (’16) were able to see in action. JC has won eight Gold Keys from the Scholastics Art and Writing Competition, but what caught Tyler’s eye were three of JC’s surreal, black-and-white self-portraits hanging in Messer Gallery. Just before leaving Country Day, Tyler asked Mr. Lichty-Smith if “the boy in the flannel shirt” would be interesting in assisting with a photo shoot. After hearing of Astrid’s background in ballet, she was invited to the shoot as well, but as a model. Astrid and JC met Tyler and Ana at their hotel before arriving at the first shooting location: Rhinegeist Brewery in Over the Rhine. Speaking of the shoot, JC said, “We walked to one of the back rooms that are these dirty, dark rooms. It was cool because they had broken glass everywhere, and holes in the floor. It was a really dirty, nasty room. But then twenty ballerinas from CCM appear. I started putting it together: We’re going to shoot them in these dirty rooms, and it’s going to be a giant contrast between these beautiful ballerinas and this nasty room.” There was no big crew at the shoot, just the ballerinas, their parents, Ana, the gallery owner, and JC. JC carried around the cameras, including a medium format Hasselblad and a Canon 1DX. JC had a chance to observe Tyler’s creative process, which included describing specific poses to each ballerina. Despite the dim atmosphere in the room, the lighting was all natural. After shooting at Rhinegeist, Tyler took four of the ballerinas including Astrid over to Music Hall to continue shooting. JC said, “It was interesting to see him work…It was interesting, because it was like he was putting together a puzzle…In the end, the images were incredible.” The images truly are stunning, and Tyler has posted some of them on his Instagram page.
While shooting with Tyler was absolutely amazing, JC admitted that the best part was “after shooting, when everyone left.” Tyler, Ana, JC, and Astrid went to dinner and hung out before attending a small get-together in Tyler’s honor. JC said, “There was no stressing out, no getting worried, no trying to impress them. Just friends hanging out. I really liked that. A lot of artists have these giant egos, some of them seem entitled to everything, but seeing someone you could relate to who was down-to-earth was really refreshing.” I believe JC has hit at the very core of why so many people, including celebrities, are drawn to shooting with Tyler despite the danger and controversy. In the end, it’s not his way with a camera but his way with people. Tyler firmly believes that “the more you know about people and human interaction, the better you will be.” He goes out of his way to listen, and has found that “people want to tell you things, people want to share things.” He believes that making personal connections with his models can make all the difference, especially when it comes to eliciting emotion. In the end, he isn’t interested in people just because of their fame. He said, “I don’t get starstruck, because everyone is just a person. I think that’s a big part of why so many people like to work with me. Because I just treat them like they’re normal people.” They may be normal people, but they’re doing amazing things. For my part, I’m excited to see continue seeing photographic evidence of Tyler’s latest mind-shattering stories, whether on his Instagram account or at Miller Gallery.