Beyoncé, Christina Aguilera & Supermodels Galore Shine In Ellen Von Unwerth Photo Exhibit

Atlanta’s SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film celebrates Ellen von Unwerth’s bold and seductive photographic style.

Beyoncé, 2011 (Courtesy SCAD FASH)

Director, photographer, author, storyteller, stylist, model, provocateur”—Ellen von Unwerth has done it all in her impressive 50-year career. So it’s no surprise that SCAD FASH Museum of Fashion + Film, the country’s premier venue for the convergence of these two fields, located at SCAD Atlanta—a branch of the iconic Savannah College of Art and Design— recently celebrated her with a wide-ranging exhibition.

Christina Aguilera, Los Angeles, 2019 (Courtesy SCAD FASH)

SCAD FASH “celebrates fashion as a universal language, garments as important conduits of identity, and film as an immersive and memorable medium of popular culture,” and no one can argue that the German-born image-maker, whose name alone is so evocative, has had a massive impact on these realms of popular culture. “Ellen von Unwerth is one of the industry’s most enigmatic personalities and photographers—her style is truly one-of-a-kind, and her images and films are spontaneous, playful, bold, and seductive,” as the museum notes.

Paola Locatelli, Paris, 2022 (Courtesy SCAD FASH)

Rafael Gomes, SCAD FASH’s Creative Director, puts it even more emphatically: “Ellen’s thrilling body of work is an inspiration to so many of our SCAD students, and it is an honor to present this exhilarating showcase at SCAD FASH.” The show, “Ellen von Unwerth: This Side of Paradise,” ran through January and presented more than 50 photographs and fashion films from von Unwerth’s “vast editorial and artistic repertoire.”

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Coco Rocha, Paris, 2013 (Courtesy SCAD FASH)

“The exuberant Ellen von Unwerth shows SCAD students how to plot a truly polymathic career: director, photographer, author, storyteller, stylist, model, provocateur,” notes SCAD President and Founder Paula Wallace. Von Unwerth, born in Frankfurt in 1954, began modeling at the age of 20. Her big break as a photographer came in 1989 when she photographed a then-unknown Claudia Schiffer for the German edition of Elle magazine, who subsequently became a supermodel.

Lady Gaga, Brussels, 2009 (Courtesy SCAD FASH)

“I just have the feeling—when I see someone and know they’re special,” as von Unwerth told Whitewall magazine in 2021. “Everybody is special, but there are people with the power of beauty; power from inside. When I discovered Claudia Schiffer, it was the fact that, of course she’s gorgeous, but she looked just like Brigitte Bardot. That really fascinated me. I enhanced that look. It’s a mixture of photographing a model in a natural situation, but also making her glamorous.”

Paris Hilton for GUESS Los Angeles, 2004 (Courtesy SCAD FASH)

Von Unwerth has created famed advertising campaigns for the likes of Guess, Agent Provocateur, Absolut, Chanel, Tommy Hilfiger, MAC Cosmetics, Baccarat, H&M, Dior, A.P.C., and Belvedere vodka, among others. She is a longtime collaborator with magazines including Vogue, Elle, Glamour, i-D, Interview, Numéro, Paper Magazine, GQ, among others. She has also published numerous bestselling coffee-table books showcasing her photography including “Snaps” (1994), “Wicked” (1998), “Couples” (1999), “Revenge” (2003), and “Fräulein” (2009).

Liya Kebede, The Sunday Times STYLE, 2013 (Courtesy SCAD FASH)

Von Unwerth is “one of fashion’s most sought-after photographers, revered for her provocative yet poignant images that amplify bold sensuality and the joy of identity’s unique fluidity—themes that have carried throughout her work for more than three decades,” SCAD FASH declares. “Inspired by von Unwerth’s Paris studio, the atmospheric exhibition at SCAD FASH emulates a mischievous and raucous party through a dazzling curation of the artist’s trademark images brimming with movement, decadence, and glamor.”

Beyoncé, New York, 2006 (Courtesy SCAD FASH)

The epic show included portraits of Beyoncé, Rihanna, Lady Gaga, Janet Jackson, RuPaul, Britney Spears, Naomi Campbell, Paris Hilton, Christina Aguilera, Zoë Kravitz, Alton Mason, and many others, while “This Side of Paradise’s film component includes projections of von Unwerth’s clips featuring characters played by Coco Rocha, Miley Cyrus, and Georgia May Jagger.

“A Pearl!”, Interview Germany, 2013 (Courtesy SCAD FASH)

“I am so proud and thankful to SCAD FASH for dedicating this show to me,” von Unwerth says. “‘This Side of Paradise’ is the place to be! The show reflects my vision of a society with no boundaries, of celebration, intimacy, love, friendship, fun, and glitter—even a little devil is allowed in.”

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2024 issue of Maxim magazine.

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