I took a very rather rapid, keen interest in the photography, the basic idea when someone sent me a couple of photographs and a link to the full series portraying Jesus in a new age. The series showed Jesus intervening in some situations, Jesus in the last supper with new age “homeboys”. The photography, the simplicity of it and the idea is downright inspiring to behold and ponder upon, considering the quality of the work, how simply marvellous it is even after more than 10 years. The series of six photographs was done in 2003 and originally published in the British magazine i-D and then exhibited later in 2008 in London and St. Moritz, Switzerland. LaChapelle; described by New York Magazine as the Fellini of photography had explored the idea considering that, as he said in a 2008 interview for the Art Newspaper TV: “the apostles were not the aristocracy, they were not the well-to-do, they weren’t the popular people; they were sort of the dreamers and the misfits. If Jesus were here today, he would be hanging out with the street people and the marginalized: the poor, the homeless, prostitutes, drug dealers, gangster and so on. And more than that, these people would have been his closest and most faithful band of followers”.
However, the idea didn’t come off the back of LaChapelle’s head. There’s a backstory. According to jesusismyhomeboy.org: In a parking lot in Los Angeles in the 1980s, a man named Van Zan Frater was assaulted by a group of young gang members. They beat him to the ground, and one of the boys held a gun to Frater’s head. “kill him, homeboy”. In a moment of inspiration, or fear, a desperate attempt to find some way to connect with his attackers, Frater, adapting their language, said, “Jesus is my homeboy, and he’s your homeboy too” and so, the boys let him go.
After the near death experience, Frater designed the now iconic “Jesus is my Homeboy” image. In the mid-2000s, the t-shirt became a fashion trend that peaked; rocked by many celebrities like Ben Affleck, Ashton Kutcher, Brad Pitt and Jessica Simpson.
LaChapelle said that unlike a lot of contemporary Jesus art, Jesus is my Homeboy is not meant to be ironic or shocking, but to convey a beautiful sentiment, and the sincerity of his own faith.
YES! The sentiment was beautiful however, a criticism of the series is that unlike the original image Frater tried to portray, Jesus, a man with an upturned palms and a gentle face (in black and white which made race indiscernible) is without race or creed, the images of Jesus in LaChapelle’s series portrayed him to be unmistakably white and the discipleship portrayed (while they are of different races) a homogenous crew. Eventually, rather than Jesus being one of them homeboys, he appeared in the series as an entirely different entity almost as it would seem if a Prince Harry of Buckingham walked into a ghetto in Lagos.