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Kathy Griffin Photographer Tyler Shields Has Always Been Controversial

Beth Greenfield
Senior Editor
The Kathy Griffin photo that started the fire. (Photo: Tyler Shields)

After a photo of Kathy Griffin holding a fake but bloody, severed head of President Donald Trump was released on Tuesday, the comedienne found herself in the midst of a major Twitter storm of outrage from both sides of the aisle — not to mention on the radar of the Secret Service. The response led her to offer a pleading apology in which she admits to having gone “way too far,” but that didn’t stop CNN from swiftly firing her as the network’s New Year’s Eve co-host (along with Anderson Cooper) after a decade-long run.

Griffin’s photo was not a spontaneous selfie shared on social media but a planned and conceptualized shoot by a seasoned professional: Tyler Shields, the Los Angeles–based “bad boy of photography” who has worked with celebrities from Lindsay Lohan to Mischa Barton and never shied away from controversy.

Photographer Tyler Shields and Kathy Griffin attend Shields’s “Provocateur” opening in L.A on May 11. (Photo: Earl Gibson III/Getty Images)

“I am sure there is a line, I have just never seen it,” he recently told the Dallas Observer regarding his sense of humor. (Shields did not immediately respond to Yahoo Style’s request for comment on the Griffin photo.)

Although he, along with Griffin, has removed the triggering Trump image from social media, this is far from the first time that Shields, 35, has found himself in the eye of a storm.


The filmmaker and artistic photographer with a skewered high-fashion perspective has made waves with imagery ranging from men (like Colton Haynes) in drag, and women (like Lohan) stained with blood — not to mention beauty tools (like a blow dryer) being used as weapons, and luxury accessories (a $100,000 Hermes Birkin bag, a $15,000 Louis Vuitton trunk) being sawed and burned to death.


GQ has said of Shields’s work, “While big-shot Hollywood producers once demanded a trophy Banksy canvas to be hanging above their faux-Spanish fireplaces, now all they want is one of [Tyler] Shields‘ gloriously twisted photographs.”


Photo Whoa Blog‘s Freddy Martinez was a bit more loquacious, writing in 2014: “His images are working, at their best, to dislodge portraiture from reality, reminding you that photography — even supposedly honest photography — still obscures the truth.”


But he added, “if they cause you any hesitation, remember it’s all makeup, toy guns, Mickey Mouse heads, and red corn syrup. It’s nasty and hilarious — not the ideal, lofty, up-in-the-clouds glitz and glamour but the nose-bleed afterparty, the concrete-glitter, the other side to imagination.”


In that interview, when asked why he incorporates violent images of “blood, guns, knives, biting, punching, hunger, sex,” Shields said, “I love playing with reality in fiction. It makes you feel something. It affects you and it’s too real for some people, but the people who love it, really love it, and that makes me happy.”


The photographer has gotten flak from some for “glorifying” violent imagery of women. Regarding that, he told Elle some years ago, “People automatically assume that if a girl is in that position or in that situation, that it is violence against her and that she’s weak, and ‘Oh, he’s making girls look weak.’ Girls and women are the most powerful creatures on this planet. Without them, nothing exists. Period.”

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