Even though Ellen von Unwerth’s (b. 1954) images feature mainly super models, often scantily clad, the women are very much in control: men are the ones who are objectified, as they are only there to serve, fear, or gawk at the fabulous women. Here, women are the strongest, sexiest, and have the most fun. It is a woman’s world.
And that world is decadent. It would be easy to dismiss Von Unwerth’s work as snuff dressed in designer clothes. Her photos might be provocative in their shameless celebration of sex and luxury, but both sex and luxury can be forms of female empowerment, and celebrations of it. Her photographs play with stereotypes surrounding both gender and fashion, and they effortlessly mix and subvert notions of high and low culture.
She also fluidly mixes sharp, shiny colour photography and grainy, blurry black-and-white, experimenting with different styles throughout her career. The defining characteristics of her work over the years have more to do with the feelings they transmit than any particular aesthetic. Her photos are seldom rigidly posed; rather they are dynamic and fun, the models clearly at ease with her. She lets them play, and her camera plays with them: in her images, the models are sensual and humorous, dominant and teasing.
Having worked with all the most famous brands, magazines, and models in fashion, the exhibition at Fotografiska is a comprehensive look at Von Unwerth’s storied career, including a look at her work as a film director.
The exhibition Devotion! 30 Years of Photographing Women is on show at Fotografiska in Stockholm until 20 May, 2018.