Ellen von Unwerth is a photographer, who, with sincere devotion, celebrates the beauty of the female body and the glamour of the mise-en-scèn it is being imprinted in. Like Lee Miller, Ellen has lived her life on the both sides of the camera lens, first being a model and ten years later unintentionally becoming a photographer.
She almost accidentally borrowed her boyfriend’s camera on a fashion production in Kenya and started photographing local children in a nearby village. The photographs were later revealed on six pages in the French magazine Jill. Since then photography became her heimat [German; means Fatherland or Motherland or where you were born and where your roots are – author] and has been that for the last thirty years. Ellen lost her parents at the age of two but she has found a new world in photography. In that world she seems to feel happy by depicting women and thus, letting them unveil their personalities filled with emotions and fantasies by means of her camera.
Ellen’s extraordinary talent to make beautiful and powerful women divulge their souls in front of the camera, while remaining control, appears skilfully in her photographs. The current exhibition “Devotion. 30 Years of Photographing Women” consists of seven galleries dedicating to women’s emotional expressions: Love, Play, Power, Gender, Lust, Passion and Drama. It starts with powerfully fragile figure of Anna Wintour sitting at a working desk and fastening her Vogue-eyes, framed by the iconic pageboy bob haircut, into the camera. The beholder is almost able to hear a silent dialogue taking place between the two women on each side of the lens.
All of a sudden you meet Conchita Wurst provocatively appearing as Adele Bloch-Bauer in Gustav Klimt’s iconic painting. When turning around you see Madonna’s cocky gaze, edged by the boldness of an eye-mask formed jewellery and the half-open mouth caressing a pearl necklace. Sensual playfulness of the female body in motion is caught in a contrasting softness of supermodels Naomi Campbell’s and Kate Moss’ shiny skin tones placed in an intimate atmosphere of a marble bathtub filled with water. Next moment you become overthrown by the marriage of a silk corset and a steal barbed wire clasping Rihanna’s figure and almost digging into the breasts, while slightly covering those. You become captivated by saturated orange colour of silk satin and laces embracing Kim Basinger’s über-feminine curves and creating a 9 ½ Weeks-atmosphere for the Interview Magazine’s cover story in 1994.
Philosophical contemplation of eroticism frames Ellen’s fascinating aesthetics, where you could smell the Weimar Republic era of the 1920’s with its ebullient emotions of decadent spirit and futuristic mood. The artist has an ability to depict the feeling of nudity in a gently nonchalant and purely intelligent way, making a frisky child coming out of a woman being photographed. She brings out the woman’s real personality giving the provocative element presented in the photographs an additional dimension by breaking the paradigm of sexual obsession and bringing an emotional deepness to each artwork. The exhibition gives the beholder an opportunity to perform a journey through all the creative periods of the photographer and feel the spontaneity and pulse of her devotion to her heimat of photography.