David LaChapelle is very good at making pretty things even prettier. The celebrity photographer is best known for snapping shots of Hollywood elite and gussying them up in candy-colors. But in his most recent series, Refineries and Gas Stations, LaChapelle has turned his camera toward trash.
It’s very pretty trash, mind you. In fact, you might not realize what you’re looking at is refuse at all. Here, LaChapelle has taken everyday objects like tin cans, hair rollers, straws and measuring cups and used them as building materials to craft glimmering refineries and gas stations.
In Gas Stations, the gorgeous models look strikingly similar to their real-world counterparts. The miniaturized Shell and BP stations were crafted from cardboard and lit up like a beacon at the end of a long desolate highway. Each of the gas stations was constructed then shot on location in a Maui rainforest to create the lush surroundings you see in the final image. “I just had this image pop into my head of a glowing gas station in the jungle at night, kind of illuminated from within like a temple,” LaChapelle has said of the pieces.
The refinery scale models, on the other hand, were constructed from discarded objects and shot in the studio or in the Mojave Desert. If you look closely, you’ll see that the Wizard of Oz-like tower is not made from glowing emerald, but rather from cans, matchbooks, plastic measuring cups and straws—all items that are products of the energy a refinery produces.
For LaChapelle, the project was about understanding how our energy dependence impacts almost every facet of our lives. It’s no small irony that these miniature refineries–ones that are non-working, art objects–were fastidiously recreated with the detritus of a petroleum-obsessed culture. As social commentary goes, though, it’s undeniably beautiful.