Claudia Schiffer staring at the camera through tousled hair, almost spilling out of her lace bustier, in a 1989 Guess Jeans ad: it’s an image that has achieved an almost iconic quality, a status not often ascribed to ad jobs. But it should come as no surprise coming from Ellen von Unwerth, the German-born photographer who has made a career of elevating sexy shots of women to something much more. “I am looking for the chameleon, the different sides of her: the angel, the devil, the girl,” says von Unwerth via email.
The illustrious career that followed this shoot is now being honored in von Unwerth’s new exhibit appropriately titled “Photographs” at the Fahey/Klein gallery. Her works span commercial, editorial, celebrity (Emma Watson, Rihanna, Beyonce…), and fine art photography, “Photography is art—images which are created in the context of fashion and advertising are contemporary witnesses of trends—so I’m not drawing a strict line between my commercial work and my fine art,” she says. “But for my own work…I can be more free and provocative.”
Her work is unified by a good dose of in-your-face sex, a sense of intimacy and a wonderful feeling of playfulness. The playful movements can perhaps be attributed to her years spent in a Munich circus in her teens, and the apparent comfort that her subjects feel in front of her lens can be traced to von Unwerth’s ten years as a model, “I know how it is to be in front of the camera…the atmosphere on my shootings is fun. Almost like a party actually,” she says.
And von Unwerth isn’t planning to stop with just one exhibition, “Every city needs her own exhibition. I would show different images in London, Paris, New York or Los Angeles,” she says. “We want to keep visitors surprised.”
“Photographs” runs from October 20- November 26 at the Fahey/Klein Gallery, 148 N. La Brea Los Angeles, CA. For more information, visit faheykleingallery.com
All photos by Ellen von Unwerth