Behind Ellen Von Unwerth's Newest Photo Exhibit

Behind Ellen Von Unwerth's Newest Photo Exhibit

The famed photographer debuts her latest project with a comedic twist.

The famed photographer debuts her latest project with a comedic twist.

Text: Nadja Sayej

Known primarily as a fashion photographer, Ellen von Unwerth is known for the way she shoots women—which is erotic, free and enjoying life.

She has spent the past 20 years shooting stars for Vogue, Interview und Vanity Fair, with some of her best photos are of Beyoncé, Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer and Cara Delevigne.

Just in time for the annual German beer festival Oktoberfest, von Unwerth opens a new exhibition of photos that pays homage to her hometown—with a comedic twist.

She taps into all the German clichés with shots of models frolicking through the Bavarian Alps, drinking beer and eating pretzels. This is all part of her photo book published by Taschen called ‘Heimat’ (meaning home country in German) which opened September 15 at IMMAGIS Fine Art Photography in Munich.

Over 30 photographs will be on view, which range from saucy shots of German sausages to dreamy landscapes of the Alps. This homage brings a sense of high fashion and glamor to a typical Hansel and Gretel fairy tale. We spoke to the photo legend about models, humor and uncomfortable high heels.

How did you arrive at this exhibition in Munich? 

 A friend introduced me to the gallery. We thought it was a good moment to have the opening around the same time as the Oktoberfest, which is a big part of the book. I grew up in the mountains, so I didn’t really go to Oktoberfest, also I was a hippie living in a commune, so it was not really our vibe... and I don’t like beer.

You shot many of these photos in Bavaria, what is the appeal in Bavaria for you?

All of the pictures are shot in different areas of Bavaria. I had lots of fun going back to the place where I grew up a part of my youth. I played with the quite conservative traditions and clichés in a tongue-and-cheek way, but also with a love for the region which I learned to appreciate and miss over the years being away from it.

What important quality do you want to bring out in your models?

I book models like actresses in a movie. For this story, I needed voluptuous girls to fill out the ‘dirndl’ (the traditional Bavarian dresses). They also have to bring a good portion of personality, humor and acting quality.

What was the most fun part of making this series?

It was fun to go back to the beautiful nature and mountains with my girls and some boys from all over the world and play out the Bavarian dream. To interact with the cows, pigs and especially have a lot of pretzels, sausages and schnapps.

You were a model before you started shooting. What advice do you have for young photographers?

Always think how much your models are suffering when the high heel shoes are too small or when they stand in a bikini in the cold winter wind. And find your own style.

How do you show women in enticing ways without objectifying them?

I never force women to do anything, but I give them roles to play so they are always active and empowered.

What is the key to surviving as a photographer in the fashion world and beyond?

Always to be curious about what is new, be around and meet people who inspire you.

The look of love, Bavaria 2015, © and courtesy of Ellen von Unwerth

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