Even if you have absolutely no interest in Christina Aguilera, the sexual energy that Ellen Von Unwerth draws out of this 'songstress' is hard to deny. Indeed, the exposure of erotic femininity – in which both are notorious specialists – is very tangible, but the tension between the photographer and the sitter nevertheless deviates from most other shoots of its kind. Having a woman behind the camera establishes something with a female subject that a male colleague never could. Instead of sexual tension, what grows between Von Unwerth and her models is something closer to trust; a state of being that leads to relaxation and surrender to the camera. The fact that Von Unwerth was a professional model for years before starting a career as a photographer no doubt helps in this respect.
“Women are not just there to be admired, they are there to be enjoyed,”Von Unwerth herself once famously stated. Her intimate but also playful and casual approach creates an atmosphere in which even the most distrustful models relax and start to play with the camera. Not so much an author directing her subjects as a co-conspirator, Von Unwerth gives the viewer a privileged peak into the inner lives of these fun-loving girls. Sexuality, intrigue, femininity and the joy of life; they can all be found in this work by Von Unwerth, whose artistic career spans more than 15 years. However, she always leaves the viewer empty handed. Frustrating as that may be for the male spectator, the actual truth of what happens when women encounter each other in this way will not be revealed.
Von Unwerth's book Fräulein (Taschen, 2010) includes a selection of her favourite shots and never before published images, including this remarkable portrait: Christina Aguilera, 400 x 500 mm, print run: 15
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