David LaChapelle’s work has been described as surrealist, grotesque, shocking and ironic. Ingrid Sischy, long-time editor of Interview magazine, has said there are three main aspects to his “strong and individualistic” photography: a sense of humour, political awareness and social awareness.
His use of celebrities exaggerates aspects of their personalities and their personal lives.
David LaChapelle cites a number of artists who have influenced his photography. In a 2009 interview, he mentioned the Baroque painters Andrea Pozzo and Caravaggio as two of his favorites. A critic has noted that LaChapelle’s work has been influenced by Salvador Dalí, Jeff Koons, Michelangelo, Cindy Sherman, and Andy Warhol.
Richard Avedon noted that of all the photographers inventing surreal images, LaChapelle has the potential to be the genre’s Magritte. Helmut Newton has also contributed to the discourse on LaChapelle, stating in a NYT article by Cathy Horyn “He [LaChapelle] isn’t very impressed by current photography. ‘There’s a lot of pornographic pictures taken by the young today…A lot of the nudity is gratuitous. But someone who makes me laugh is David LaChapelle. I think he is very bright, very funny, and good'”.
Ses publications contiennent de nombreux portraits de vedettes américaines, telles que Britney Spears, Marilyn Manson, Ryan Phillippe, Drew Barrymore, Uma Thurman, Leonardo DiCaprio, Pamela Anderson, Lana Del Rey, Naomi Campbell, ou celle qu’il présente comme sa muse, Amanda Lepore.
Son travail, généralement réalisé au service d’un produit de l’industrie de la mode (vêtements, accessoires…) consiste à fixer une image de la fortune bâtie sur la popularité marchande telle qu’elle serait affranchie des lois (Paris Hilton, apologie des drogues dures) et à offrir à un public de la petite bourgeoisie l’assurance d’appartenir à une classe sociale séparée des labeurs du monde.