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Tyler Shields is the photographer you just can't ignore

Lipstick, cigarettes, underwear and death by Rolls-Royce – Tyler Shields’ photography book is characteristically risqué. But there’s more to the notorious photographer’s work than the shock factor

If you’re familiar with Tyler Shields, you’ll know that his collection Provocateur has something of an air of inevitability about it. The California-based photographer’s work has always flirted with controversy, and this series is no different.

Shot on old film cameras and with a cinematic look reminiscent of both the American film noir of the 1940s and the French New Wave of the 1960s, Shields describes it as a “throwback”.

It flits between chaotic movement caught in stasis and highly sexualised shots of female bodies. In other words, it’s pure Shields. But, despite the title, he says the collection doesn’t aim to shock for the sake of it.

“‘Provocateur’ is something I’ve been labelled as,” he says. “People say the series is ‘shocking’, but I wanted to show sexuality in an interesting way, where you don’t necessarily see anything. Sometimes that can be more intense than actually seeing the act itself.”

Intense is right. The series comprises fiercely passionate imagery, with a strong emphasis on the female form. It’s unsurprising, given his opinion that in the modern era, the world’s true provocateurs are almost exclusively women.

If proof was needed of how much Shields’ stock has risen in just under a decade, the fact that an investor recently bought the last of his infamous Birkin bag prints for £91,000 should do the trick. It resonates especially when he recalls how, eight years ago, his first photograph sold for $75.

“It’s amazing,” he says, “because the more people collecting the work, the more I’m able create and do crazy things.”

As you’d expect, he’s got big plans for his next project. “I’m thinking about doing an aerial series,” he says. “We’re looking into buying a helicopter. I’m decent at flying, so we’ll see if that works out.”

We suspect that a collection of aerial photos may well cause less controversy than some of his previous work. Then again, with this particular provocateur, you can’t rule anything out.

You can buy Provocateur: Photographs for £49.95 here.

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