FOR ALMOST THREE DECADES, PROVOCATIVE GERMAN FASHION PHOTOGRAPHER ELLEN VON UNWERTH HAS EXPLORED THE POWER OF FEMININE EROTICISM. ONCE A SUCCESSFUL MODEL, THE SELF-TAUGHT PHOTOGRAPHER PORTRAYS FASHION WITH A DISTINCTIVE UNDERSTANDING OF HOW TO FUSE IT WITH ART.
A self-taught photographer, Von Unwerth’s first big success came when she chose the hitherto unknown 17-year-old Claudia Schiffer, who resembled a young Brigitte Bardot, for a Guess advertising campaign in the late 80s. Her work has since been published in the most noted magazines around the world such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, Interview, Playboy, L’Uomo Vogue, i-D, and The Face, among many more.
A BALANCING ACT
Born in Frankfurt in 1954, Ellen von Unwerth grew up in instable circumstances. She spent her childhood between orphanages and foster parents and left to Munich at the age of 16 to live in a commune. She spent some time working at the Roncalli Circus, which became a noticeable influence in her later work. Her fortunes turned when she was scouted to model for the iconic German teen magazine Bravo. On the shoot she was discovered by international modeling agency Elite. This served as the milestone for her successful modeling career that would span over the next ten years.
In the early 80s, while on a modeling job in Kenya, von Unwerth picked up the camera herself to photograph local children. It was then that she discovered her passion for standing behind the lens rather than in front of it and decided to pursue photography professionally. To this day, her modeling background gives von Unwerth a unique insight on how to create a moment of intimacy and charm that makes an exceptional image.
Von Unwerth’s work is not only at the pulse of fashion, but also highly sophisticated on an artistic level. Influenced by Helmut Newton and his tutor Yva, von Unwerth is known for showing erotic femininity with humor and irony, bordering on kitsch.
Von Unwerth has also produced promotional photography and album covers for numerous artists like Duran Duran, Janet Jackson, Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, and Rihanna. As if this weren’t enough, von Unwerth also successfully directed a series of short films, music videos, commercials and web films for top brands including Clinique, Revlon, and Swarovski, which often feature a celebrity face.
The women in her photos aren’t merely pretty-faced fashion puppets, but strong women with character and attitude, who don’t take themselves – or what they’re wearing – too seriously. Von Unwerth’s images offer a refreshing, playful take on beauty, showing that – size zero or not – personality is key.
Influenced by photographers like Helmut Newton and Jacques Henri Lartigue, von Unwerth is known for her sexy portrayal of strong women that are confident about their femininity and sensuality.
A documentary-style impromptu approach is essential to von Unwerth’s work. She captures the unexpected moments when the model moves freely, as if nobody is watching, rather than posing for the camera.
Capturing movement in her photography was allegedly born out of the restriction of creativity von Unwerth felt when, during her time as a model, she was always being told to hold a motionless pose.
At the age of 16, von Unwerth goes to Munich with her boyfriend and starts working at the Roncalli Circus.
On a shoot for Bravo magazine, the boss of Elite Model Management discovers the young Ellen von Unwerth and signs her as a model in his agency.
Elite takes von Unwerth to Paris to begin what would become a successful modeling career.
Von Unwerth’s photographs of local children in Kenya get published in French fashion magazine Jill.
Von Unwerth is chosen to photograph an advertising campaign for Guess and discovers Claudia Schiffer, whom she cast to model it.
Ellen von Unwerth is awarded the first prize in the International Festival of Fashion Photography.
Snaps, Ellen von Unwerth’s first book featuring her sexy reflections on the fashion world, is published.
Von Unwerth directs her first short film, “I create myself”, featuring Demi Moore.
The photo-novella Revenge by Ellen von Unwerth was accompanied by exhibitions in New York, Paris, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Moscow, and Beijing.
Von Unwerth publishes one of her most successful books, Fräulein, which the Taschen publishing co. describes as “Fashion and fetish in a female fantasyland”. It features images taken over a 15-year timespan, of celebrity models, musicians, and actresses – including some that were hitherto unpublished.
Mert & Marcus Photographer Portrait
Alexa Chung Fashion People Portrait
Ulyana Sergeenko Designer Portrait
Veruschka Model Portrait
Alber Elbaz Designer Portrait
Brigitte Bardot Fashion People Portrait
Bottega Veneta Label Portrait
Hedi Slimane Designer Portrait
Alberta Ferretti Label Portrait
Mica Aganaraz Model Portrait
Gianvito Rossi Label Portrait
Olivia Palermo Fashion People Portrait
Vanessa Moody Model Portrait
Humberto Leon & Carol Lim Designer Portrait
Sarah Harris Fashion People Portrait
Bouchra Jarrar Designer Portrait
Loewe Label Portrait
Odette Pavlova Model Portrait
Céline Label Portrait
Alexander Wang Designer Portrait
Phillip Lim Portrait
Eva Chen Fashion People Portrait
Cartier Label Portrait
Karl Lagerfeld Designer Portrait
Anna dello Russo Fashion People Portrait
Jürgen Teller Photographer Portrait
Adriana Lima Model Portrait
Victoria Beckham Label Portrait
Giovanna Battaglia Fashion People Portrait
Mario Testino Photographer Portrait
Demna Gvasalia Portrait
Daria Werbowy Model Portrait
Mary Katrantzou Designer Portrait
Suzy Menkes Fashion People Portrait
Oscar de la Renta Designer Portrait
Naomi Campbell Model Portrait
Annie Leibovitz Photographer Portrait
J.W. Anderson Designer Portrait
A Century New Label Portrait
Lineisy Montero Model Portrait
Azzedine Alaïa Designer Portrait
Phoebe Philo Designer Portrait
Anna Wintour Fashion People Portrait
Alexandra Elizabeth Ljadov Model Portrait
Stella McCartney Label Portrait
Kendall Jenner Model Portrait
Patrick Demarchelier Photographer Portrait
Lanvin Label Portrait
Rick Owens Designer Portrait
Ruth Bell Model Portrait
Raf Simons Designer Portrait
Caroline de Maigret Fashion People Portrait
Proenza Schouler Label Portrait
Scott Schuman Photographer Portrait
Joan Smalls Model Portrait
Alessandro Michele Designer Portrait
Chanel Label Portrait
Elena Perminova Model Portrait
Twiggy Model Portrait
Louis Vuitton Label Portrait
Jamie Bochert Model Portrait
Alexander Mcqueen Designer Portrait
Rihanna Fashion People Portrait
Olivier Rousteing Designer Portrait
Hanne Gaby Odiele Model Portrait
Dries Van Noten Label Portrait
Yohji Yamamoto Label Portrait
Gareth Pugh Label Portrait
Anna Piaggi Fashion People Portrait
Comme des Garçons Label Portrait
Tilda Swinton Fashion People Portrait
Jil Sander Label Portrait
Steven Meisel Photographer Portrait
Linda Evangelista Model Portrait
Claudia Schiffer Portrait
Lady Amanda Harlech Fashion People Portrait
Georgia May Jagger Model Portrait
Saint Laurent Label Portrait
Gigi Hadid Model Portrait
The Row Label Portrait
Eres Label Portrait
Helmut Newton Photographer Portrait
Yves Saint Laurent Designer Portrait
Kate Moss Model Portrait
Anthony Vaccarello Label Portrait
Francois-Henri Pinault Fashion People Portrait
Inès de la Fressange Fashion People Portrait
Acne Studios Label Portrait
Miroslava Duma Fashion People Portrait
Jeremy Scott Designer Portrait
Alexander McQueen Label Portrait
Carine Roitfeld Portrait
Diana Vreeland Fashion People Portrait
Inez & Vinoodh Photographer Portrait
Anna Ewers Portrait
Haider Ackermann Label Portrait
Cara Delevigne Portrait
Nicolas Ghesquiere Designer Portrait
Miranda Kerr Portrait
Dolce & Gabbana Label Portrait
Hermès Label Portrait
Balenciaga Label Portrait
Marc Jacobs Designer Portrait
Valentino Label Portrait
Moschino Label Portrait
Marni Label Portrait
Kenzo Label Portrait
Isabel Marant Label Portrait
Marc Jacobs Label Portrait
Gucci Label Portrait
Christian Dior Label Portrait
Balmain Label Portrait
Chloe Label Portrait