In 2007, during the Wild West-era of online connections, I entered a contest on the social networking website Myspace to “Win a Photoshoot with David LaChapelle.” At the time, he was the world’s preeminent fashion and celebrity photographer and I was a bright-eyed, 20-year-old college student. From my clunky MacBook laptop, I applied. And out of 10,000 applicants, I won.
I tell the full story on Picter’s new podcast, Creative Risk, and how I regard that moment as the watershed of my creative career. Not because I won the contest, but because in every step that followed—from my time working in David’s studio to years later building the visual direction of the world’s most-read art publication at Artsy—I faced crossroads. And I learned that leading with heart and gut makes all the difference.
I dug into my archives (we’re talking Livejournal, Photobucket, and Myspace here) to give you some visuals to illustrate the episode. I’m dressed in costume in a disproportionate number of photos here because that’s when most of my personal photos were taken—while making a quick cameo during a shoot—and then I’d be back to work.
Standing next to the DJ booth during one of the first jobs I worked on at LaChapelle Studio, for the MTV Video Music Awards print campaign in 2007. We shot a very young Rihanna, Kanye West, Chris Brown, the Foo Fighters, and Pete Wentz.
That’s the set to the left, and true to David’s work, it is exquisitely detailed and truly awe inspiring, built from the ground up in one of his studio’s massive cycs. I’m dressed up because at one point—without my prior knowledge but much to my excitement—I was sent to hair and makeup and pulled into the shot.
At the studio during the shoot for Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” video. The video was one of many David directed for Elton’s “The Red Piano” show. (If you’re looking for an internet rabbit hole, I suggest watching all of them. They’re stunning!)
We spent the entire summer preparing for the shoot—building an elaborate set modeled after a 1970s Vegas hotel room, complete with murals, and casting an epic group of models and friends—and on the day of production, I had the tremendous honor of being in the film.
Me and David on set in 2008. I can’t remember during what shoot this photograph was taken, but it is definitely representative of the inspired spirit on David’s set and the very fun times we had while working.
The studio traveled to Milan, Italy, for David’s beautiful retrospective opening at the Palazzo Reale museum. A fashion designer named Francesco Scognamiliglio had gifted a dress to my friend Amanda Lepore; she brought me along to his atelier and he generously gave me one, too. It’s one of the most beautiful garments I own.
This photograph was also taken while in Milan for David’s retrospective. It was captured at our friend Flavia Mantovan’s art opening, which also coincided with the beginning of Milan Fashion week.
This is a picture of me with friend and iconic makeup artist Sharon Gault in front of David’s legendary work Deluge (2007) at the opening of his retrospective at the Palazzo Reale, Milan.
This Polaroid was taken on location for Jennifer Lopez’s “Do It Well” music video, directed by David LaChapelle. I worked as a PA and assisted David, but was pulled into one or two scenes over the course of the shoot.
This is the highest resolution I have of this image from the Jennifer Lopez shoot, but I have always loved it.
This Polaroid is from the commercial David shot with Fergie for Motorola. At one point during the shoot, I’m standing in a storefront window surrounded by pastel cakes. At most other points, I was running around with a walkie talkie.
This is a portrait of me in my bedroom in an apartment I rented at the end of my time in Los Angeles, surrounded by letters from friends back at school in Savannah, Georgia.
My screenshot of David LaChapelle’s Myspace page sometime after the contest that brought us together.
Editor’s note: Thanks to Molly for sharing these archival snapshots with us. Check out her website at https://www.mollygottschalk.com/. To listen to our podcast episode featuring Molly, visit https://anchor.fm/picter/ for links to Creative Risk on Spotify, iTunes, Overcast, Pocket Casts, and Castbox – or listen on SoundCloud.