Art & Design

Tyler Shields, the Photographer Behind That Kathy Griffin Image, Has a Long History of Creating Controversy

Art & Design

Tyler Shields, the Photographer Behind That Kathy Griffin Image, Has a Long History of Creating Controversy

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Photography: Tyler Shields

By now, you’re probably aware of the second biggest scandal in today’s news cycle (following covfefe-gate, of course), which centers around Kathy Griffin’s questionable decision to pose with a bloody Donald Trump mask, a move that has since gotten her fired from CNN and made her the target of an awful lot of angry people on social media.

Griffin has apologized for the photo, which went viral yesterday, but Tyler Shields, the photographer responsible for it, has defended both Griffin and the image, telling Entertainment Weekly: “[It’s a] freedom of speech thing, which is great. It’s such a timely image. We see millions of visuals every day and to make something that really stands out is very difficult now.”



Turns out, it’s not the first time Shields has courted controversy. Following a brief career as a professional in-line skater alongside Tony Hawk, he began taking pictures in 2003, following a bad breakup. Since then, he’s photographed celebrities including Emma Roberts (with a stack of cash in her mouth, because apparently, she’s no germaphobe), Demi Lovato (provocatively licking a lollipop), Mischa Barton (with an inexplicable slab of meat on her face), and Lindsay Lohan (covered in blood, because LiLo always wins the provocateur war). Looking at these photos gives you a general idea of Shields’s schtick, which is always glamorous, occasionally gory, and transgressive whenever possible.

In 2012, he made headlines for shooting Clint Eastwood’s daughter Francesca (his then girlfriend) taking a chainsaw to a $100,000 red alligator Birkin bag. He later lit the bag on fire and snapped Eastwood with it as well as a flaming pair of Louboutins to match. Two years later, he photographed actress Ana Mulvoy-Ten play-fighting a real live alligator for a similar bag made from his brethren. Needless to say, everyone from fashionistas to animal rights activists to people simply passionate about the value of a dollar were pissed.



“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,” he said in an interview.

But it’s not all It girls covered in blood. In 2015, Shields released his series “Historical Fiction,” which reimagines defining events from American history, including the deaths of JFK, Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean, the civil rights movement, and the first moon landing. The series features an image of a naked black man hanging a member of the KKK.



According to Shields, his most controversial piece was not the Griffin image, which he claims was jointly conceptualized, but rather a 2011 image of actress Heather Morris with a black eye. “The most death threats that I’ve ever gotten from an image was over a girl with a black eye and the black eye was fake,” he told Entertainment Weekly. “It was a fake black eye. Well, how does that make any sense? But, that’s the beautiful thing about a still image is that they grow legs and they run off on their own.”