'I really hope that they let me visit her at Guantanamo,' jokes Tyler Shields

UPDATE: Kathy Griffin has apologized for the gory image she created with photographer Tyler Shields depicting her holding a facsimile of Donald Trump's decapitated head. "I sincerely apologize," she said in a video posted to social media. "I am just now seeing the reaction of these images. … I went way too far. The image is too disturbing. I understand how it offends people. It wasn't funny. I get it."

EARLIER: Photographer Tyler Shields doesn't want to explain what he's trying to say in his latest, and very arresting, photo, which features comedian Kathy Griffin holding a replica of President Donald Trump's bloodied, decapitated head in her hand.

On Tuesday, the gory and shocking image debuted and instantly drew quite a bit of outrage. The president's son Donald Trump Jr. called it "disgusting" in a tweet and others on the social media platform have slammed the graphic photo as "wrong" and "pure evil." However, this isn't anything Shields and Griffin didn't expect, the photographer—who is known for making provocative pictures like this—tells EW.

Shortly after the picture started circulating, EW hopped on the phone for a quick conversation with Shields about the new photo.

Credit: Tyler Shields

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How did you come up with the concept for this picture?

TYLER SHIELDS: We'd been talking about doing something and she said to me, "I'm not afraid to get political if you want or make a statement if you want." It's always a collaborative process, especially with someone like Kathy, but it was one of those things where we didn't know exactly what we were gonna do until we got there. Then, once we got there, it just kind of escalated into that. There were a bunch of different ideas thrown around and then, I was like, "This is the one we gotta do."

Was this a one-day shoot?


Where did you get the Trump bust on such short notice? 

The shoot happened in one day, but we'd been talking about it for a while. We were able to source some things and do stuff like that before… We had about 10 different ideas and we had the props and we had the things there for them, but then on the day, it was like, "This is the one. This is the one to do for sure."

Why did you want to pursue this one specifically?

A few different things. Obviously, there's the freedom of speech thing, which is great. It's such a timely image. We see millions of visuals every day and to make something that really stands out is very difficult now. I think that this has the potential to make people stop for a second and say, "What is that?"

Were you worried that this might incite violence? Many have accused Trump of doing this with the comments he has made.

No, I'm never the guy that's like, "We're making this piece of art so people are gonna go hurt other people because of it." I always look at it like, when you make something, it makes people not want to do it. That's just me personally. But again, the great thing about making something like this is that, look, you make it and people have their opinion on it and that's the fun of it. A compliment and an insult are the same thing; the insult just takes longer to write.

While you were putting this together, were there any other concerns?

There's a behind-the-scenes video (which has since been removed from YouTube), which just went live, and literally, in the video, we're watching one of the videos that we were filming and Kathy's honest reaction was, "We're gonna have to move to Mexico because they're gonna put me in jail." Now again, fortunately, we have freedom of speech [in the first amendment], and all art is generally protected by these things, but again, this was her first thought, "Will you bail me out of jail?" You know, again, it wasn't, "I don't want to do this because I might go to jail." It was like, "Well, I'm gonna do it and whatever happens, happens."

Do you think you would've done this shoot if it were any other president?

I don't know. I was obviously alive during Clinton, Bush, the other Bush, Obama, and now this. It's interesting. I'd say Trump is probably the most polarizing president that we've ever had. I've heard more things about him already in this presidency than I remember hearing about Clinton's, probably, entire term. But I was a very young man, so it was different. He's the social media president. So, look, it's not even about him. It's just about the whole thing of where we're at right now as a society and he just happens to be the one speaking at that.

What did you mean by "it's not even about him"? What did you and Kathy want to say with this?

I think to her, it's absolutely about him. I can't speak for her, obviously. For me, presidents are symbols. They're symbols. They reflect some people's ideals and they reflect the opposite of some other people's ideals. Right now, this guy is the opposite of a lot of people's ideals. But also, there's a lot of people that think he's great. That's their own opinion, their own idea. Again, I can't sit here and tell you that someone is not allowed to have their opinion. That's why I'm allowed to make this art. For me, that's more what this is about. You can have your opinion. There's the famous quote, "I don't agree with you, but I'll defend your right to say it." I might not agree with him, she definitely doesn't agree with him, but I'll defend my right to be able to say whatever I want until I die.

Is testing the first amendment the driving ethos behind the project?

Again, you have Kathy's ideal of it and then you have that other side of it. Look, to me, I see both sides of it. My biggest thing is I like to make something and I don't like to explain, "Well this is what you have to see when you see this." I like to make this and let other people figure out what it means to them. Yeah, I do think that the amendment and the freedom of speech are very important things that have existed in my life. If those things didn't exist, I wouldn't be able to make 90 percent of the work that I make. Also, if this was a different time or a different country, I'd probably be killed right now for these photos.

You mentioned how Kathy made that joke about bailing her out of prison. Did you give any more thought to what the public backlash would be?

That's the beautiful thing about stuff like this: there's always going to be backlash. I think a lot of people fear backlash. It's this thing of, "Well, I want everyone to like me. I want everyone to like the work that I make," especially young artists. You want people to love you, but part of that is that if you make things that are polarizing, people are gonna hate it. I think there will be a lot of people who will absolutely hate this, but again, that's the beauty of it. That's the fun of making things. Am I saying that anyone should actually be killed? No, it's like a movie. How many movies are there where the president gets killed or this happens? Tons upon tons. But again, when it's an image, especially an image like this, people don't see it like that. They see it as reality and that's why it's so shocking to some people.

Why do you think people are fine watching a movie but take an image like this as reality?

That's a whole other conversation, which is really interesting. The most death threats that I've ever gotten from an image was over a girl with a black eye and the black eye was fake. It was a fake black eye. Well, how does that make any sense? But, that's the beautiful thing about a still image is that they grow legs and they run off on their own. With a movie, people sit down and they know it's a movie. But if you make an image… If you do a good job, basically, people can't tell if it's real or fake—which is fun, but you have to be willing to have people not know what it is and to be really upset about it.

You mentioned you considered several other ideas for the shoot. What were some of those ideas?

We never shot any of them, but Kathy had an idea which was filling an entire bathtub full of Cheetos, which she would be nude in, and which I thought was really funny. I advised against that because I think the Cheetos would've probably destroyed her bathtub. I just don't think you ever get that out. So that was one. I wanted to get an American flag ball gag for her, but it just didn't look good. But, that's part of the process. You have different ideas and sometimes they're stupid, sometimes you never do them, and sometimes they're great but they just don't work in the photograph. But that's the fun of it. The right idea always shines.

It sounds like you weren't necessarily looking to do something political.

Again, we shot other stuff as well. I shot her in this latex one-piece and made her look like an '80s supermodel. Again, Kathy said to me, "I'm not afraid to make a statement and I'm down to get political if you want." It wasn't like, "We have to do something political." She's not afraid of it and I'm not afraid of it. I was like, "Let's do it." It was, how far are you willing to go, and she was willing to go pretty far.

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