Tyler Shields / Via tylershields.com
The photographer behind a controversial new picture of Kathy Griffin posing with the severed head of President Donald Trump — which has drawn widespread criticism — is defending his image as a valid form of artistic expression.
The photos were leaked to TMZ on Tuesday. “Trump's critics have skewered him for inciting violence with his speech. Did Kathy do the same?” TMZ wrote.
The picture set off a social media firestorm, with many condemning the image for its apparent display of violence against the president and lashing out at Griffin on her social channels.
“Trump is the social media president,” photographer Tyler Shields told BuzzFeed News in his first interview since the controversy broke. “He is the most polarizing president we've ever had. With any type of person like that, art is going to be made about them.”
“I like to make things and let people make up their own minds about it, but I understand with this that some people will praise it and some people will absolutely hate it,” he said.
Shields, who is known for taking highly sexualized images of celebrities, said he photographed the comedian last week holding the bloodied prop, which he said was custom-made for the shoot.
He said the pair brainstormed several ideas for their photo shoot, after Griffin, whom he described as a friend, suggested she model for him again.
“I said, 'OK, how crazy do you want to get?'” Shields recalled. “And she was like, 'I'm ready and willing to push any or all boundaries. I'm down to get political, to get naked, to do whatever.'”
“I could never have done this photo with anyone else,” he said, saying that Griffin was “such a polarizing figure” and was “fearless.”
Representatives for Griffin did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but she defended the photo on Twitter, comparing it to Trump's apparent comments about Megyn Kelly's menstrual cycle.
“1/ I caption this “there was blood coming out of his eyes, blood coming out of his…wherever” Also @tylershields great Photog/film maker,” she wrote. “2/ OBVIOUSLY, I do not condone ANY violence by my fans or others to anyone, ever! I'm merely mocking the Mocker in Chief.”
In a behind-the-scenes video posted by the artist she said, “Tyler and I are not afraid to do images that make noise.”
Shields said he communicated briefly with the star this morning to warn her the photos were set to come out. “She was like, 'I was born ready,'” he said.
The image was roundly denounced after its release, with many on social media noting the firestorm that would ensue were a conservative star to pose with a left-wing politician's head.
“You sick, disgusting person!” one person wrote on Griffin's Instagram account, which was flooded with negative comments. “Promoting murder is a new low even for liberals like you. You should be investigated. I'm a real American and you make me sick.”
“Holding a head that's supposed to be Trump decapitated? Try doing that crap in any other country,” wrote another person.
Conservatives and liberals also denounced Griffin on Twitter.
Griffin regularly co-hosts New Year's Eve celebrations on CNN with Anderson Cooper. A network spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
She also recently endorsed the Squatty Potty in a promotional video for the bathroom stool. Company CEO Robert Edwards also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Asked if he would ever photograph a conservative star holding the severed head of Hillary Clinton or Barack Obama, Shields indicated he hadn't considered it.
“For me, personally, that wasn't an image I ever thought about making,” he said, saying such a photo didn't interest him and wasn't in line with his beliefs.
“I love the fact that I can make this image,” he said. “Fortunately we still live in a world where I have the right to say what I want. A lot of people fought for that right.
“That being said, I really love Kathy and I hope they let me visit her in Guantanamo.”