Ellen von Unwerth on It Ladies, SCAD FASH, and Glitter
Ellen von Unwerth is having a glitter emergency.
The acclaimed vogue photographer is hours from opening her new exhibit—“This Facet of Paradise,” a retrospective at SCAD FASH in Atlanta—and her customized black metallic paneling is nowhere to be discovered. “Apparently it obtained misplaced in Korea,” shrugs Unwerth, who favors slim black fits that make her appear to be a lion tamer. “So that they introduced a bunch of sizzling pink glitter to the museum as a substitute. 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.
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Britney Spears, shot by Ellen von Unwerth.
“I at all times make up a narrative for my photos,” says the 69-year-old. “It’s like, ‘This woman goes to a celebration, however then she spills all of the champagne,’ or ‘This woman has a wealthy boyfriend, nevertheless it goes dangerous, so she wants a job and finally ends up strolling canine throughout Paris. However the canine find yourself strolling her.’ For me, the sweetness at all times occurs when one thing goes a bit bit fallacious.” (That features the Nice Atlanta Glitter Emergency. “It’s even higher as a result of it’s hand-done,” she says. “Now, it’s rather a lot like a diamond.”)
Born in war-bombed Frankfurt, von Unwerth turned a magician’s assistant in highschool earlier than changing into a industrial mannequin. “They at all times wished me for hair merchandise,” she smiles. “I did have very lovely hair.” However she was much more fascinated by the different aspect of the digital camera. “That’s the place you had management!” she laughs. On a modeling journey to Kenya, she introduced her small digital camera 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 stated, ‘There’s this good German woman, such as you! Possibly go take some photos of her at her home.’” That’s how von Unwerth ended up assembly Claudia Schiffer in 1989, sensing she could possibly be greater than “simply the great woman subsequent door,” and styling her like Brigitte Bardot. The ensuing ELLE pictures satisfied Guess to offer them each a marketing campaign, and the remainder is vogue historical past.
Beyoncé, shot by Ellen von Unwerth.
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 originally of their stardom. “As a result of I used to be a mannequin, and, you already know, a woman, I do know what it’s like for folks to simply inform you 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 at all times 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 manner.”
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 stated to her, ‘No person has seen a Britney within the ’20s. It is going to look so lovely, like a Berlin nightclub in a dream. And it is going to be nice as a result of, you already know, you’ll look totally different…now Britney, she is nice. She has type! So she allow us to type her like a silent movie actress, and she or he seems so weak, so soulful. It was a superb 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 as if everyone seems to be gunning for a similar alternatives at work or in a inventive area. “There’s at all times going to be competitors, and competitors is in all places in life, with all people,” she says. “I feel even my gardener is jealous of the opposite gardener. After all 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 tougher.’ Jealousy additionally allows you to say ‘who offers a shit about them, I’m going to work on me.’” She laughs, happening to explain being a profitable lady 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.”
A print by the artist… and glitter.
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 high quality 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 want 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 offers me the customary European double kiss. Hours later within the mirror, a stray fleck of glitter remains to be caught to my cheek.
Editor at Giant, ELLE.com
“Her magnificence and her mind go not collectively.” —William Shakespeare