A Florida-born photographer is attracting the ire of Americans after he took a picture of Kathy Griffin holding a severed head that resembled Donald Trump. Tyler Shields published the image on his website on May 30. The other images from the Griffin photo shoot show the comedian by the pool in the Hollywood hills wearing a leather suit with leather boots. Donald Trump JR. was one of the first to denounce the picture.
The younger Trump took to Twitter to say, “Disgusting but not surprising. This is the left today. They consider this acceptable. Imagine a conservative did this to Obama as POTUS?” While Shields joked on Twitter, “I hear Tijuana is beautiful this time of year.”
Kathy Griffin wrote on Twitter that she had captioned the photo, “There was blood coming out of his eyes, blood coming out of his… wherever.” Griffin then tweeted, “Tyler Shields is a great photog/film maker. Obviously, I do not condone any violence by my fans or others to anyone, ever! I’m merely mocking the Mocker in Chief.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Shields Has Been Accused of Copying Other Photographer’s Work Without Crediting Them
In January 2016, Vice published an article titled “Is Celebrity Photographer Tyler Shields Inspired, Or Copying Other Artists?” The piece lists off the celebrities that have worked with Shields as well as the photographer’s claim that his work has sold for up to $175,000.
The article cites an interview that Shields did where he said:
I just love to show people the way I see the world. It’s important for me to explore the things that I see and create inspiration from the worlds around me. I don’t look to other artists, just the world.
The interviewer then asks Shields about fellow controversial photographer, Terry Richardson, to which Shields said, “To be honest I don’t look at other peoples work I only know who Terry is because people have asked me if I like this work.”
In 2015, photographer Henry Leutwyler, publicly accused Shields of copying Leutwyler’s 2012 pictures of a ballerina with bloodied feet.
2. Shields Liked to Get Celebrities Out of Their Comfort Zones
The Daily Beast interviewed Shields in November 2013. He told the website about his likes and what he expects of his subjects:
I had all of these crazy ideas and people were just like, ‘That will never happen. You’re never going to get celebrities to this, to get out of their comfort zone.
One of those images included Twilght star Ashley Greene being tied to a railroad track with a legit train coming towards. Greene told the Daily Beast that a friend had to untie her before the train crushed her.
Despite his willingness to take celebrities out of their comfort zones, according to his own website, Shields is “Hollywood’s favorite photographer.” The same bio cites him as the “bad boy of photography.”
3. Shields Began His Artistic Life Directing Skate & Music Videos
An LA Weekly feature on Shields from November 2011 adapted a similar angle as the above Vice feature. The LA Weekly piece was titled, “Warhol or Wannabe?” The feature delves into Shields beginnings in Jacksonville, Florida. Shields arrived in Los Angeles in 2002 and soon was directing music videos for Ghostface Killah and Defari.
Glee’s Jenna Ushkowitz is quoted by LA Weekly as saying about Shields:
It’s a collaboration. I don’t think he could get the shots he gets unless the artist and Tyler totally believe in it. And I could only hope that the public would respect what we see as art.
Blogger Perez Hilton was similarly beaming about Shields to LA Weekly saying the photographer was “a genius photographer, a genius at spotting rising talent and befriending them, and a genius marketer.”
Shields really caught the attention of the mainstream in 2015 with his series titled “Historical Fiction.” One photo showed a black man lynching a member of the KKK.
4. Away From Photography, Shields Directed His First Feature Film in 2015
According to his IMDb page, Shields directed his first feature length movie in 2015, Final Girl, starring Abigail Breslin. Critic Kim Newman, who reacted positively to the movie, said it was “given a distinctive look and tone” by Shields. The photographer has made and starred in several other short movies.
In 2011, Shields published his first novel, Smartest Man. One reviewer wrote on Amazon:
The “book” starts out by telling readers how he (Tyler Shields) is the smartest man on earth, and how his mother died gruesomely in a car crash in order to save his infant life.
5. Shields Isn’t the First Person to Use Artist to Protest Against Trump
The artistic response to the Trump presidency began almost as soon as the Donald took office. On January 20, the New Yorker published a piece titled, “What can artists accomplish by saying no to Trump?” The article specifically referenced artist Richard Prince disowned work he had done with Ivanka Trump in 2014.
Other examples of the artistic reaction to Trump include Meryl Streep’s 2017 Golden Globes speech as well as the litany of respected musical artists who refused to appear at Trump’s inauguration.