January 27, 2012

If you’ve had the exquisite pleasure of being introduced to the work of Tyler Shields in the last few years, you are well inured to his themes of bloodshed, drugs, tunnels, and ruined starlets, set against the neon background of porn tropes. You are also never–and have never been, for one second–surprised by any of his choices. There may have been a time when you wondered to yourself, ‘why is that model doing this?’ or ‘is X really that desperate for publicity?’ You may have even heard yourself utter the strange, unprecedented phrase, ‘Doesn’t Lindsay Lohan deserve better than this?’

Reader, we sympathize. And we’d like, after a long period of silence, to point out a few discrepancies in the work of someone who is getting far too much interest for our taste.

Shields work reeks of LA. While this isn’t fundamentally a bad thing, the part of LA (home of the facelift) that the work seems to stand for is. And really, there could be no better metaphor for Shields’ work than the cult of plastic surgery itself. It’s bloody, expensive-looking yet unconvincing, and the subjects of his photographs–much like the subjects of plastic surgery–seem to labor under the magically suspended belief that they look better than ever before, while onlooking spectators pale from embarrassment at the mere sight of them. Case in point, the work itself. One series features Lindsay on the verge of an orgy (consensual?); another, Lindsay in a tunnel with a magician and a male rival. A third and more recent features Emma Roberts peeking through a hole where a violent scene between barbies is being enacted.

What becomes clear, after looking for awhile at the monotonous string of work, is that Shields has built his success on other people’s desperation, and desperation of no common sort. It is the part of celebrity culture that insists one be relevant even at the expense of dignity, even when relevance means risking both salmonella and pride at once by sticking a raw cut of meat in one’s mouth for the camera. But you may be wondering, why does Shields’ career prosper if the tabloids are and have been effectively doing his job for him–years longer–and far better–than he has himself?

It’s a question we’ve been asking ourselves–and everyone around us–for quite awhile. All we know is, when shock becomes a patentless fomula, it will have its conscriptors.

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