So far, her 30-year career has been spent photographing the coolest girls on the planet. From the 90’s Guess campaign with Claudia Schiffer to the first issue of her own fashion magazine Von, Ellen Von Unwerth’s pictures have reached long ago the status of instantly recognizable iconic images. This Spring, the Paris-based German photographer exposes a selection of her most famous works featuring powerful women including the likes of Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss at the Opera Gallery in London. She sat down with Living it to give an insight into her magical universe.
How did you select the pictures?
“I decided to make it all about women because it’s my favourite subject and these are my most iconic, well-known, pictures. All these pictures were once shown in different galleries and museums around the world.”
What are the ingredients of a successful Ellen Von Unwerth picture?
“It’s like magic. A lot of pictures are great and end up in fashion and beauty editorials but a picture that hangs on a wall needs to have something more; an emotion in it. A person looking at it needs to wonder what is happening there. Sometimes you feel it, sometimes you built it up.”
Do you see this magic happening during the shoot or afterwards?
“I didn’t see it so much during the first shoot I did with Claudia Schiffer. Of course I saw how gorgeous she was, but I only saw the resemblance with Brigitte Bardot afterwards. The black and white portrait of Claudia is a great example because there were many pictures taken during the shoot but this one is just perfection: the movement in the hair, the neckline... It is both sensual and cute.”
The way you portray women can sometimes be erotic, almost provocative… Are you never afraid of being misunderstood, of going too far?
“I am not afraid and I work with women who want to be photographed by me and feel empowered by it. It’s fun. We don’t try to do erotic pictures. It’s a playful exaggeration and models are being silly because in my pictures there is always a sense of humour. You cannot please everybody. Actually, it’s mostly women who come up to me and tell me how much they like my work and want to be photographed by me.”
What are the pictures you haven’t taken yet that you wish to take?
“I hope I’ll get a chance to photograph Cate Blanchett at Cannes Film Festival this year. I have never photographed her and I am such a huge fan. I also love to discover new people. With my own magazine, Von, it’s very exciting because I am free to do my own stories and to photograph young artists and designers. There are loads of magazines out there but not so many outlets to show the work of up-and-coming people.”
Who for example?
“I love new actresses like Ellie Bamber, and also the music of singers Kali Uchis, Dua Lipa,...
What would be your advice to a young photographer starting today?
“Find your own style. Don’t try to copy what’s already out there. Copy never has the strength of what you invent yourself. Train your eye, have your camera always with you. When I walk on the streets I see things differently when I have my camera with me. This way I catch moments.”
Catch Ladyland by Ellen Von Unwerth at the Opera Gallery
May 4th – 18th
London, 134 New Bond Street