Ellen von Unwerth Is Vogue’s Lion Tamer

Ellen von Unwerth is having a glitter emergency.

The acclaimed style photographer is hours from opening her new exhibit—“This Aspect of Paradise,” a retrospective at SCAD FASH in Atlanta—and her customized black metallic paneling is nowhere to be discovered. “Apparently it acquired misplaced in Korea,” shrugs Unwerth, who favors slim black fits that make her appear like a lion tamer. “So that they introduced a bunch of scorching pink glitter to the museum as an alternative. The SCAD college students sprayed it on the partitions themselves. Like, a billion items of pink glitter. A bomb of it. They made it lovely regardless that it was [a] loopy [amount] work, so now we now have the present.”

“The present” comprises dozens of the German snapper’s authentic photographic prints, together with iconic portraits of Paris Hilton and Christina Aguilera, together with va-va-voom close-ups of lacquered lips and unlaced corsets that helped construct von Unwerth’s popularity for air-kissed imagery that mixes frothy decadence with hints of deviance.

britney 2003

Britney Spears, shot by Ellen von Unwerth.

Artwork Accomplice

“I all the time make up a narrative for my photos,” says the 69-year-old. “It’s like, ‘This lady goes to a celebration, however then she spills all of the champagne,’ or ‘This lady has a wealthy boyfriend, but it surely goes dangerous, so she wants a job and finally ends up strolling canines throughout Paris. However the canines find yourself strolling her.’ For me, the sweetness all the time occurs when one thing goes somewhat bit unsuitable.” (That features the Nice Atlanta Glitter Emergency. “It’s even higher as a result of it’s hand-done,” she says. “Now, it’s so much like a diamond.”)

Born in war-bombed Frankfurt, von Unwerth grew to become a magician’s assistant in highschool earlier than turning into a business mannequin. “They all the time needed me for hair merchandise,” she smiles. “I did have very lovely hair.” However she was much more fascinated by the different facet of the digicam. “That’s the place you had management!” she laughs. On a modeling journey to Kenya, she introduced her small digicam alongside and got here again with portraits of the native Maasai girls that earned her a six-image unfold within the French journal Jill. Campaigns with the British activist and designer Katharine Hamnett adopted.

However the photographer’s main break got here from this very journal. “[ELLE] referred to as me and mentioned, ‘There may be this good German lady, such as you! Perhaps go take some photos of her at her home.’” That’s how von Unwerth ended up assembly Claudia Schiffer in 1989, sensing she may very well be greater than “simply the great lady subsequent door,” and styling her like Brigitte Bardot. The ensuing ELLE images satisfied Guess to present them each a marketing campaign, and the remaining is style historical past.

beyonce ellen von unwerth

Beyoncé, shot by Ellen von Unwerth.

Artwork Accomplice

Von Unwerth credit her revealing imagery to the on-set camaraderie she cultivates with girls like Beyoncé, Lana del Rey, and Bella Hadid, all of whom she shot in the beginning of their stardom. “As a result of I used to be a mannequin, and, you understand, a lady, I do know what it’s like for folks to simply let you know the place to go and what to do. As a mannequin, they by no means let me transfer round on a set, so now I all the time need motion, and music, and enjoyable…and I by no means say, ‘You look dangerous.’ No. I say, ‘Nice!’ and that permits them the liberty to be nice in their very own method.”

That’s what occurred in 2003, when a 21-year-old Britney Spears was in her Poisonous period of ice blonde hair and glossy vinyl bodices. Posing at Nell’s nightclub (RIP!) in downtown Manhattan, the pop star’s cavalcade was gunning for a ’50s pin-up look till von Unwerth took issues into her personal palms. “Sure, the fifties are nice, however I mentioned to her, ‘No person has seen a Britney within the ’20s. It’s going to look so lovely, like a Berlin nightclub in a dream. And it will likely be nice as a result of, you understand, you’ll look completely different…now Britney, she is nice. She has model! So she allow us to model her like a silent movie actress, and she or he appears to be like so weak, so soulful. It was an excellent shoot as a result of she confronted herself within the mirror. She is gorgeous and she or he is courageous.”

The photographer urges different girls to be courageous, too—particularly when it looks like everyone seems to be gunning for a similar alternatives at work or in a artistic area. “There’s all the time going to be competitors, and competitors is in all places in life, with all people,” she says. “I believe even my gardener is jealous of the opposite gardener. In fact it’s a problem, but additionally, it drives you. It pushes you to say, ‘What am I actually good at? Let me discover extra and check out more durable.’ Jealousy additionally enables you to say ‘who provides a shit about them, I’m going to work on me.’” She laughs, happening to explain being a profitable girl amongst others as “a ache, however when it pinches you, it wakes you up a bit. The pinch will get you transferring. So that you say ‘thanks,’ and also you imagine it’s good.”

scad atlanta – spring 2023 – exhibitions – ellen von unwerth – "this side of paradise" – teaser documentation – scad fash – photography courtesy of scad

A print by the artist… and glitter.

Colin Douglas Grey

These in Atlanta can see von Unwerth’s SCAD FASH exhibit via Jan. 8, 2024. In the meantime, Manhattan dwellers can go to the photographer’s prints at Verōnika, the gilded advantageous eating hangout that’s simply named her its debut Artist in Residence. However first, von Unwerth has a date with some SCAD graduate college students—at a close-by Atlanta strip membership. “They created these very ingenious garments, and so I assumed, why not go shoot them [there]? After I’m house [in Paris], I don’t actually go to events—I favor to simply get to mattress on time. However I’m right here, and wonder is sort of a magnet. It pulls you generally. You don’t even should know why.”

As I wrap up our interview, von Unwerth provides me the customary European double kiss. Hours later within the mirror, a stray fleck of glitter remains to be caught to my cheek.

Headshot of Faran Krentcil

Editor at Massive, ELLE.com

“Her magnificence and her mind go not collectively.” —William Shakespeare


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