Last Night: David LaChapelle at Wolfgang Roth Gallery

They're out there: hoity-toity connoisseurs just waiting to tell you that fashion photographers aren't real artists. They'll say, "Bla, bla, bla isn't fine art. Bla, bla, bla isn't thought-provoking... Bla." Then they'll take a sip of free champgne from a plastic cup and check their Blackberries when it's your turn to talk.

Well, after seeing David LaChapelle's Jesus is My Homeboy at the Wolfgang Roth gallery on NE 39th, we don't believe them anymore. The exhibit is proof that all those thin, pretty models can do more than just look thin and pretty. LaChapelle has freed them from the glossy pages of too-thick magazines stacked in salons across the country.

The commercial fashion photographer originally made a name for himself taking photos of celebrities for Interview, Rolling Stone and Vogue (Legend has it, he was offered his first job by Andy Warhol.) But these days he's on to more interesting projects. Jesus is My Homeboy had the clean, whimsical look of the Diesel jeans ads he's done before, only with a much riskier concept. The gist: Dress the beautiful people as whores and junkies, then place them in urban settings with a Jesus Christ look-alike.

LaChapelle was in the flesh, looking boyish in his sideways baseball cap last night. It seemed like each time we turned around, he was trapped in a different corner of the gallery with a another pushy fan or camera guy wanting a sound bite. Every five minutes, his attractive but burnt-out publicist would drag him in front of a different photographer to get each piece equal play.

Riptide caught up with him in front of "Evidence of a Miraculous Event." In the photo, the Jesus model bleeds from his hands inside what looks like a bare hotel room, as news coverage from Iraq flashes on a TV screen. He explained the concept: "To me, Jesus is a distorted figure. I'm trying to take Him out of the hands of the fundamentalists." The goal: to reclaim Christ for the average person.

LaChapelle seemed genuine. He asked people questions about themselves and listened to the answers. He drank beer from a brown bottle while everybody else sipped pomegranate cocktails. And even as his publicist tried to swoop him into the hands of the big time magazines, he gave all the wannabe photographers who tried to slip him business cards just as much attention. Really, he said before leaving, even Jesus Christ should be approachable. "A lot of people get scared when you mention Him, so I want us to talk about it."

--Natalie O'Neill

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