Q: I don’t understand why Tyler Shields is not in the headlines of the News-Democrat. After all, he actually took the photo of Kathy Griffin holding the mock severed, bloody head of President Trump. This is not the first time that he has taken disgusting photos. either. Will he get a visit from our Secret Service?
Richard, of Collinsville
A: With camera in hand, Tyler Shields is still like Ilie Nastase with a tennis racket, Ozzy Osbourne with flying creatures, and Charlie Sheen just about anywhere.
Even in his online website (www.tylershields.com) bio, the 35-year-old former inline-skating pro admits he started his latest career with a focus on being “the bad boy of photography.” After last week’s escapade with Griffin, he likely has cemented that reputation.
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Shields seems to not just accept the label, but revel in it. He compares himself to classical painters who, as he does now, ignored societal norms. He says his works are “in the vein of Caravaggio’s’s near photographic paintings in the 16th century, where rules and guidelines of the century were abandoned and/or re-incorporated to challenge the sensibilities of the time.”
He wants his images to provoke and even shock the viewer so that they stand out from the mundane and be remembered.
“What does it mean to be alive in the 21st century?” he asks. “How does it look? How will it look 500 years from now? What does it take for an image to capture attention throughout the deep-gaze of time ... ?”
Like them or hate them, it’s easy to see how his staged images can sear themselves into the mind. Just take his re-creation of the supposed body of John F. Kennedy on a morgue slab taken from the perspective of the ID tag on the big toe of his left foot. Or the image of a naked black man lynching a sheeted Klansman. Or a picture of an Adolf Hitler impersonator blowing his brains out. Or two black men attacking a police officer with an American flag.
They were part of an exhibit he called Historical Fiction. He explained he thinks that, other than Sept. 11, people younger than 30 have little concept of world events, so he thought he’d bring a few to life again in ways ghastly, tender — even cute. (No, despite his most recent slice of life, he is not heartless. His collection, for example, includes an updated version of the famous airplane chase scene from Alfred Hitchcock’s “North by Northwest” and an image of two praying hands holding a newspaper that heralds the assassination of Martin Luther King.)
His most recent shoot, however, returned to his world of the provocatively lurid and gruesome. Like his work in general, this was no spur-of-the-moment selfie. (Finding the right Hitler lookalike, for example, took two years, he said.) In interviews soon after the photo was released to the gossip site TMZ, Shields said that for some time both he and Griffin had been thinking of ways to “get political” and express their opposition to the current chief executive.
He told Entertainment Weekly they finally met for an all-day shoot, where they threw around ideas until finally settling on Griffin holding Trump’s bloody head. “I was, like, ‘This is the one we gotta do,’” Shields said.
As for the possible repercussions, Griffin reportedly asked Shields whether he would bail her out of jail if they were arrested for the shot. For his part, Shields said he thought the image would stand out and tend to make sensible people less violent.
“To make something that really stands out is very difficult now,” Shield said. “I think that this has the potential to make people stop for a second and say, ‘What is that?’”
He certainly was right about that as the picture almost instantly drew a firestorm of near-unanimous negative reaction. So why wasn’t Shields in the headline? Name recognition. You seem to have heard of him before, but I would wager most people had not. Most, however, have heard of Griffin so it’s her name that’s going to draw readers. Besides, like anything, it’s usually the person in front of the camera that’s in the spotlight. That’s why if some nameless editor messes up something in this column you’re reading, readers will blame me.
A visit from the Secret Service? I can’t say for sure and they certainly wouldn’t tell me, but I’d bet the chances are nil. It may have been abhorrent to most, but there was no threat, merely a supposed protest much like burning a flag. To me, it was like an SNL skit gone haywire, crude and gruesome but protected speech. In fact, I would argue that it actually damages their cause because it allows the president’s supporters to say, “See how loony his enemies are?”
Nevertheless, Griffin made her 5 o’clock apology while Shields is ready to go on earning boatloads of cash with such photographic stunts as blowing up vintage Rolls-Royces and burning $15,000 Louis Vuitton trunks. (He once said he planned on selling only three of the Hitler prints — for $20,000 each.) Caught shopping for ice cream the night after last week’s hoopla, Shields re-affirmed that he would not censor himself in the future, meaning there likely will be more scenes not for the squeamish coming from his studio.
What baseball team allowed Kathy Griffin to get her first taste of television?
Answer to Saturday’s trivia: In 1928, Gerber announced it was seeking baby pictures for a new line of baby foods. So, artist Dorothy Hope Smith submitted a charcoal sketch she had done of 5-month-old Ann Turner, daughter of syndicated cartoonist Leslie Turner (“Captain Easy”). Trademarked in 1931, it has been that drawing that has graced Gerber products ever since. Now 90, Ann Turner Cook was an elementary and high school English teacher for many years. After retiring she began writing the Brandy O’Bannon series of mystery novels and is a proud member of the Mystery Writers of America.