A Recent History of Morbid Celebrity Photographs

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Celebrities must get tired of photo shoots really fast. They’ve always got to sit on some swing and pretend to laugh, scowl while an industrial fan blows in their face, or lounge on a fancy Victorian sofa and feign disinterest. And it’s not just the furniture and facial expressions that are boring; eventually, these photos also aid in making their public image go stale. It’s no surprise, then, that so many of them have produced some darker images in collaboration with edgier photographers. Despite how inevitable they may be, the content of many of these violent, twisted, and morbid images have us squirming in our seats a little — should we feel fascinated, repulsed, or offended? After the jump, help us decide with some recent and notorious photos that we can’t get out of our brains.

Kirsten Dunst for Autumn De Wilde

No, that’s not the girl who gave us nightmares from The Ring — it’s just Kirsten Dunst channeling her inner Lux Lisbon for Autumn De Wilde. De Wilde’s got a reputation in celebrity circles for making celebrities feel less like they’re posing, and more like she’s visualizing them in a broader body of work. This isn’t exactly the Dunst from Bring It On, but we’re digging her haunting zombie-beauty here and the romantic-deadly Virgin Suicides visual hat-tip.

Lindsay Lohan for Tyler Shields

Photographer Tyler Shields is planning on releasing an old body of work depicting a skimpily dressed Lindsay Lohan battered, bloodied, being choked, and at gunpoint in a May 8 warehouse show. Sounds iffy to us, but what’s even more iffy is that Banksy supposedly helped Shields land the Los Angeles space — also the location for his 2006 Barely Legal show. Whether Lindsay’s for or against their release (and, to be honest, the latter would shock us more), we’d put these stark, chilling images in the “repulsive” category.

Lady Gaga for Ellen von Unwerth

No one does the shocking image like Lady Gaga, and the above Out magazine snap by Von Unwerth, a photographer known for her interest in erotic femininity, is probably one of her tamer shots, considering the barrage of sado-masochistic and downright disturbing images Gaga sends our way. It’s not a surprise that Gaga started incorporating morbid themes into her brand so early on, but at what point will the stakes be too high to raise? We look forward to future red carpets, Gaga, if only to see how you answer that question.

Lady Gaga for Ellen von Unwerth, part 2

What’s that? Oh, nothing. Just Lady Gaga hanging out in a graveyard, looking like she’s planning to feast on some flesh. It’s no surprise that Gaga appears twice on this list, and the shoot, themed around a ’50s horror movie, isn’t necessarily surprising, either.

James Franco for Terry Richardson

Terry Richardson’s had a few fingers wagged in his direction for the contexts in which he’s put his celebrities (racy Glee shoot, anyone?), but this James Franco shot went pretty under the radar — perhaps because it somehow manages to be half as menacing as it should be. (Or is that just us?) As edgy as James Franco tries to be, what with the art shows and short story collections, we may never really see him any differently than we did in his Freaks and Geeks and Pineapple Express days.

Janet Jackson for Matthew Rolston

In promoting her album Discipline, Janet appeared in Black Book looking all sorts of masochistic. Yeah, yeah. We get the connection. We also get how it’s provocative and, for some, kind of kinky. It’s compelling without being too disturbing, so we can stomach this one without too much of a problem. Still, if we have any nightmares about being stuck in torture devices, we’ll know who to blame.

America’s Next Top Model‘s murder-themed shoot

After its umpteenth season of trying to prove how creative and challenging the world of fashion photography is, ANTM and its waifish hopefuls raised some hell among feminists over their 2007 murder-themed shoot. The pictures featured girls asphyxiated, electrocuted, covered in blood, and portrayed as mangled corpses. Even better, judges’ commentary included such gems as, “What’s great about this is that you can also look beautiful in death.” Weird, weird, a thousand times weird! The show, intentionally or otherwise, highlighted the fashion industry’s taste for and encouragement of corpse-like models. For us, it was a reminder: just because you’ve got a bunch of blood and dramatic lighting doesn’t mean it’s a profound shoot. In fact, it’s more likely that you have a murder scene on your hands, but maybe that’s just the traditionalist in us.

Taylor Momsen for Jonathan Pushnik

Give us a picture of Taylor Momsen in a field of bunnies wearing a modest sundress and we’ll still tell you it’s morbid: the painfully thin teen starlet, who’s been going through an especially uncomfortable “bad girl phase,” can’t help but embody violent death. For her infamous Revolver spread that had moms ’round the world locking up their 17-year-olds, she’s carrying two kinds of guns and sporting a glare that could kill on its own. Of course, Momsen is also wearing more eye makeup than pants! (Always a classy choice, whether it was hers or the stylist’s.)