Pushed to the Limits

Celebrity Photographer Tyler Shields Exposes ‘The Dirty Side of Glamour’

Tyler Shields has a long history of shooting stars in controversial poses like Mischa Barton licking raw meat. A new book showcases his greatest hits.

Tyler Shields

"Tyler Shields saved my life. Right after he almost killed me,” writes actress Emma Roberts in the opening of Shields’s new book, The Dirty Side of Glamour (Available November 12, It Books). She then proceeds to describe her experience of being pushed off of a bridge—all for a photo.

Shields has built his career around capturing almost death-defying scenarios, such as his Suspense series, which included Roberts flying through the air and falling from bridges, and Glee star Heather Morris sporting a severly black eye. Not to mention his infamous photo of the annihilation of a $100,000 Birkin bag.

Somehow, Shields has a way of getting his celebrity friends to do just about anything—even things no one believed he would be able to. According to the artist, that was a lot of people’s mindset during the beginning stages of his career. “I started it probably five or six years ago,” Shields told The Daily Beast. “I had all of these crazy ideas and people were just like, ‘That will never happen. You’re never going to be able to get celebrities to do this, to get out of their comfort zone.’”

He began by contacting friends—among them actors Ashley Greene, Shiloh Fernandez, Juno Temple, and Kelen Lutz—who, at the time, were all just beginning their careers. Everyone jumped on board. They all wanted to do something unforgettable—even if that meant momentarily fearing for their lives.

Unlike Roberts's fall from a bridge, Greene had less hesitation about being tied up on train tracks. Shields went as far as hiring a real conductor to steer a train directly at the actress to get his memorable shot. Her only direction from Shields was simple: “You’ve got to untie yourself and get out of the way before the train gets here,” he told her. The train gains speed. Greene doesn’t get herself untied. Luckily, a nearby friend pulled her off the track just in time. Shields grabbed her shoes. “She’ll never let me live that down,” he joked. “The train went by, and she’s there, still tied up, in his arms and says, ‘Really Tyler? The fucking shoes?!’”

Most of the time, though, Shields insists his photoshoots are more casual. For his Suspense series, for example, the photographer told his friends: “All I want for my birthday is to shoot all day and all night.” Everyone obliged. Then he casually added: “And I want you guys to jump off buildings.” Thus, the aforementioned Roberts shot was captured.

“Emma absolutely ate shit,” the artist recounts. “She fell so fucking hard. She did not talk to me…she could not move the next day. I don’t think she talked to me for like a week after that. Then, I sent her the picture and she was like, ‘Oh my god it was totally worth it.’”

The book also includes shots from Shields's infamous Birkin series, which called for a $100,000 crocodile skin handbag from Hermès to be completely obliterated by his girlfriend Francesca Eastwood (Clint’s 20-year-old daughter). When the artist published the photos on his website, a stream of death threats piled in.

Things have changed since then, however. At the beginning of October, one of the Birkin images sold for $75,000 in London. When Shields returned last week for the opening for his most recent exhibition, Submerged—a series of dramatic underwater shots at times reminiscent of classical ballet—he found that people are no longer outraged by his work.

Slowly, people have begun to collect his photographs. When a recent work of his sold for half a million dollars, Shields was able to put that money towards writing, directing, and producing a film—Outlaw—which is currently in production.

(Coinciding with the release of The Dirty Side of Glamour, Shields has two upcoming shows—at the Guy Hepner Gallery in Los Angeles and at the Samuel Lynne Gallery in Dallas.)