Ellen Von Unwerth, Photographer and Model

“I also shoot men, but my work is more about women. Men are more like accessories…. (laughs).”

Ellen Von Unwerth is the proof that fashion photography is not the prerogative of men. Her pictures lose nothing in comparison to those of her male fellows. Indeed, this former German model-turned-photographer, offers a strong and innovative insight onto fashion. While some might have feared that a woman would look too softly at other women, this is a prejudice that the one we call Von has simply swept away.


Her work can be qualified as playful, sexy, provocative or even disturbing. Von was the first to photograph Claudia Schiffer and to win the first prize at the “International Fashion Photography Festival” in 1991. Her photographs of Vanessa Paradis, Kate Moss, Rihanna, among others, toured the world. Her work appears, among others, in prestigious magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair. She has also been working on advertising campaigns for major brands such as Guess, Chanel or Diesel. Her work has been presented in the Archeology of Elegance in 2002 and the Fashioning Fiction organized by the MoMA PS1 in 2004. Her photo novella Revenge was accompanied by exhibitions in the major capitals cities.

Capturing life in motion

“I always love movement and story telling, even in pictures.” 

Her secret certainly resides in the motion. We find in her photographs a certain kinetic energy that gives life to her models. She started taking pictures of her model friends by letting them choose their poses but then decided to impose an aesthetic where modesty had no place. As Vanessa Paradis confided, posing with Von is a very funny exercise: you enter the artist’s world and let yourself go to her eccentricities because you feel that she is a real artist. Von Unwerth explores feminine fantasies that are familiar to her and does not bother with principles. Her models take undisguised pleasure in drinking, smoking, eating, etc. The spontaneity of her images and the reflection of happiness displayed by her models will not go unnoticed by the photo connoisseur. This is clearly reflected in the photograph in which three very beautiful blondes bite the same candy apple. But in reality, the models do not really eat, drink, or smoke – they are just pretending to. What is important is this gap between the activity proposed and the body –  the gaze is elsewhere. One can tell the double life of the woman photographed: Vanessa Paradis reading a magazine but looking elsewhere, displaying a desire of which only her knows the secret. Objects of desire, but also actress of the desire she provokes. Or David Bowie and Kate Moss posing lasciviously, while the smile and look of Bowie are not directed towards her. Dioni Tabbers who drinks milk but who is thinking of something else. Von is having fun with the concept of virility. (See her book “Fraulein” devoted to female sexuality.)

A female photograph?

Von was able to stand out by empowering her models who always seem to be in control of their desires. Photographs which, although being deprived of any modesty, do not oppress women. Although represented as objects of desire, their looks remain powerful and never objectified or degraded. They are not mere objects of pleasure, but on the contrary, they take an active part in the celebration- they are the detonators of pleasure.

Ellen Von Unwerth was able to break the codes of fashion photography and encourage women to play with men’s desire. Like in this picture where a woman poses in a sultry way in the middle of the road while a truck driver is taking her picture. Men always seem a little silly in Von Unwerth photography. Women can easily turn men’s head and she knows it.

The German photographer loves pin-up poses, without ignoring the power that these photographs can have on the male spectator. She loves to play with this fake naivety. Indeed, we often see the models with a lollipop or a finger between the lips. Images that awaken desire and which Von enjoys. Her series Revenge, for example, has become a classic of its kind. Ellen Von Unwerth explores her imagination using black and white shots that creates a sadomasochistic story and celebrate femininity. The glaze of her models are studied with great mastery.

The women are taking their revenge, and Von is having fun with it. Moreover, in all the photographs that the paparazzi have taken from the German photographer, Von is always showing a tremendous smile.

Ellen Von Unwerth
Ellen Von Unwerth

She admits it herself: It was because photography amused her that the she abandoned the glamorous world of the fashion shows to get behind the lens. And this, for our greatest pleasure.

Portrait of Flora Mathieu

Are You Photogenic?

Being photogenic is the ability to figure well in photographs.

French version

Indeed some people with ordinary faces appear as more beautiful on a cliché. The opposite is also true. Some beautiful people lose their beauty in front of the lens.

Being photogenic is the ability to figure well in photographs. Indeed, some people with an “ordinary” face appear as more beautiful in a picture. And the opposite is also true as some really beautiful people tend to lose their beauty in front of the lens.

What makes someone photogenic?

First, in order to define what makes someone photogenic, it is important to return to the notion of beauty.

Beauty is “the quality of being pleasing, especially to look at” without any semantic link with aesthetics. It is the quality of what is beautiful, of what is aesthetic, what approaches perfection. It is synonymous with delight and extreme rapture. It can refer to a man, an object or a landscape.

For photographers, photogenics is an important factor as a photogenic model will facilitate his work. A face that reflects the light, a good bone structure will add value to the image.

The eye of the photographer

The photographer should know how to perceive and use light. His eye is naturally attracted by the brilliance of a beauty according to his own sense of culture, taste and personality. A photogenic face can challenge you, just as a situation may reveal a subject.

The eye of the photographer is capable of highlighting the beauty of a face, a body.

You must quickly observe the model to find out what is the best angle.

And If you have a photogenic model who looks good from several angles, your work will then be easier! A photogenic face can also give you inspiration.

A creative encounter

Feeling at ease will help generating beautiful ideas, especially if the photographer’s imagination is stimulated. The opposite is also possible, you can photograph a “photogenic” model and not be stimulated because this very aesthetic face does not move you. You will have “beautiful” shots that do not reflect your work.

It is for this reason that photogenicity and beauty are subjective. Some photographers prefer the “atypical” beauties to the “classic” beauties preferred by others.

It is important to emphasize that a photogenic face can tend towards the non-photogenic if it is badly handled. A person can have photogenic qualities and get a disappointing picture if “the trigger” did not happen. I mean by “the trigger”, a successful communication between the model and the photographer (see previous article).


According to François Cheng ” Why speak of beauty if not to attempt to restore man to his best self?”

The writer explains that aesthetics can only achieve its true depths by letting itself be subverted by ethics. It is this ethics that brings us back to the relationship between beings, to the relationship in photography between the photographer and his model.

By Flora Mathieu

Benetton Campaign

In shape and shapely: exploring the concept of beauty through history

French version

It is often thought that things were simpler in the old days.

Birth of Venus
XIR412 The Birth of Venus, c.1485 (tempera on canvas) by Botticelli, Sandro (1444/5-1510); 172.5×278.5 cm; Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence, Italy; Giraudon; Italian, out of copyright

But in fact, being a model in 1900 was much more complex than it is today. With globalization comes new means of communication, networking opportunities and with the proliferation of social networks, working in the fashion sector has certainly become more accessible. While in the past, one had to rely on luck to be spotted by a photographer or an agency director, it is much easier to get scouted today. A model should constantly keep that in mind in order not to get discouraged. Indeed, millions of sites are, photo books as well as professional platforms are now available online, and this give more opportunities to those who master both their image and their communication tools.

Now, it is much easier to be beautiful


A larger nose, a skin defect, a broken tooth and your chances of posing for a photographer are destroyed. Thankfully, today, there are a large variety of tips that solve most of these problems. The American Series Nip Tuck testifies to the place of surgery in modern societies. But also of its excesses. While the creed in fashion was to “reinvent yourself” through surgery, we now favor the natural way. Indeed, a defect can make a person’s charm. Vicktoria Modesta, Moffy, Winnie Harlo, and Aimee Mullins have succeeded in this business despite their unconventional beauty.

The TV show Nip Tuck highlights the excesses of plastic surgery

Western beauty ideals in the past were quite steady. Until the 20th century, we have always favored a type of woman with very white skin, wide hips and an ample bosom. Only one beauty standard existed through the century.

By Franscisco Jose Goya
By Franscisco Jose Goya

It goes without saying that until the 19th century, models were only for painters. On the other hand, being beautiful required superhuman efforts. Women of the Middle Ages waxed using a mixture based on arsenic sulphide! And to prevent the hair from growing, they then applied bat blood on their skin. In the 50s, Marilyn Monroe lathered on thick layers of Vaseline to prevent the aging of her skin. Nowadays, cosmetic innovations make it easier for women to look after their skin. We can be beautiful more effectively and for longer.

Non-white models are all the rage!

Benetton Campaign
Benetton Campaign

Today, fashion supports diversity. Like world cup footballers, miscegenation is no longer a problem for the fashion world and sometimes even becomes an asset. And this trend is going to increase. In cinema, too, with the boom of China and Korea, Asians are increasingly in vogue. Perhaps we are moving towards a m world that embraces differences.

Conquering feminine beauty …

Throughout history, the notion of feminine beauty has evolved. It is History that changes the body of the woman, dresses and undresses her according to the trends of the time. Today, models have the opportunity to impose their vision of the word by showing a certain attitude, a way of being that corresponds to the image of their times.

The "Kim Kardashian Style"
The “Kim Kardashian Style”

The boyish style (Garçonne) of the Roaring Twenties (loose, streamlined, androgynous silhouette) corresponded to women’s liberation and emancipation movements. In 1940, silhouettes became more imposing to show that women could be strong in the face of conflict; more recently, faced with the demands of libertarian movements, fashion has developed toward an androgynous model. Kate Moss being the icon of that time.

Kate Moss
Kate Moss

Today, we could say that we want to impose a model of tolerance and acceptance of difference. Kim Kardashian’s curves or the thinner body of Kendall Jenner: fashion, too, wants to show that it is necessary to put an end to a unique beauty canon. From the timid smile of the Mona Lisa to the naked clichés of Emilie Ratajkowski, it is a slow conquest of the physical beauty that the fashion world has told us.


A portrait of Marine by Samatha Martinez

Pourquoi se Passionner pour la Photographie ?

Commençons par le commencement.

English version

Pourquoi choisir la photographie ?

Pourquoi pas surtout.
La photographie est comme n’importe quel art, un moyen de s’exprimer pour ceux et celles qui ont envie de raconter, qui ont envie de se faire écouter, de se faire lire, mais pour qui, parler ne suffit pas.

Nous sommes aujourd’hui en 2018, dans une ère numérique, une ère de l’image. L’image parle à tout le monde. A celui qui ne sait pas correctement lire comme à celui qui n’a plus envie de « perdre son temps » à lire, tout simplement. Elle parle également à celui qui ne connait pourtant pas toute l’histoire de la confection d’une image.

C’est un médium qui est également facile d’accès, toujours à cette ère du numérique. En effet, ce n’est pas comme la peinture, le dessin ou d’autres arts qui, pour être vus par un grand nombre, doivent être, eux aussi, numérisés.

Alors pourquoi la photographie ? Si l’on souhaite faire passer un message à un large public, il semble que ça reste l’un des moyens les plus rapide et efficace pour transmettre une ou plusieurs informations.

Ne serait-ce que via internet ou via les smartphones, tout le monde, ou presque, y a accès. Tout le monde ou presque, diffuse de l’image en permanence notamment sur les réseaux sociaux, pour parler de quelque chose ou simplement pour partager un événement, un paysage ou encore des clichés personnels de sa famille.

Louise's foot in a black and white picture by Samantha Martinez
Louise by Samantha Martinez

Vivre de la photographie

Alors pourquoi ? Pourquoi est-il malgré tout si difficile de vivre de la photographie aujourd’hui ?

Pourquoi est-ce si complexe alors qu’on aime tous plus ou moins l’image et que l’on en a surtout grandement besoin ?
Toutes les entreprises ou/et marques, de n’importe quel domaine confondu a besoin d’images pour se faire connaitre ou pour vendre ses produits, tout autant que nous, consommateurs, avons besoin de ces mêmes images pour les acheter ou pour prendre connaissance d’une enseigne existante.


Lire une description ne suffit plus, il nous faut voir ce que nous souhaitons acquérir, c’est comme ça. Une question de sécurité avant tout, mais d’avoir également le choix puisqu’il est désormais possible de l’avoir. Le choix de se rétracter et d’être d’accord sur ce que nous voulons posséder, si ça rentre dans nos critères esthétiques de sélection.


Nous avons aussi besoin de l’image plus personnellement pour voyager, visiter le monde à travers les yeux d’autres personnes ou encore pour se tenir au courant de l’actualité parce que l’information reste plus ancrée lorsqu’on la voit.
Ou encore plus simplement, pour l’amour de l’art en général, l’amour de la création, l’amour de la nouveauté, du beau et du laid, pour tous ceux qui savent s’en satisfaire en tout cas.


Artistic picture by Samantha Martinez
By Samantha Martinez

Mais voilà, depuis que l’art fait partie de l’économie du monde, il faut, en tant qu’artiste, se battre pour faire valoir ses droits, pour arriver à en vivre. Egalement depuis que la photographie est devenue accessible à une grande majorité, toujours avec cette ère du numérique. Le marché ayant été bradé, c’est une bataille de longue haleine. Avec en plus cette ère de surconsommation et de surproduction, certains photographes ont décidé de ne plus en faire leur métier car tout le monde ne peut pas ou n’est pas prêt à suivre. C’est une dure réalité.

Il n’est tout de même pas dit qu’il soit impossible de devenir ou d’être photographe. Il est simplement dit que ce métier n’est plus le même qu’il y a vingt ou trente ans. Aujourd’hui si le photographe veut vivre de son métier, il faut en plus qu’il accepte d’être un technicien plus qu’un artiste, un ouvrier plus qu’un artisan. Il faut également qu’il devienne retoucheur.

Se battre

Aujourd’hui, il y a un tel besoin de faire de l’image en masse que pour en vivre, il faut être prêt à produire et à faire un nombre incalculable de clics à la journée… Notamment dans le e-commerce qui est un des domaines où il est possible de s’assurer pour vivre de la photo. Il faut être prêt à pondre de l’image sans la compter, à facturer sous forme de forfait pour rester dans le marché et à lâcher sa fibre artistique parce que ce n’est finalement plus ce qui vous est demandé, votre côté artistique. Ce qui est fort dommage…


C’est malgré tout une grande généralité et fatalité que de dire ça car il reste encore, et
bienheureusement, des marques ou des agences qui estiment que c’est la différence de styles d’images, de point de vue et donc la qualité de l’image qui prime sur la quantité. Là est le travail de la direction artistique. N’oublions pas qu’avant d’être un outil marketing, la photographie est avant tout un art !

A DAY IN A LIFE by Samantha Martinez


Et c’est ce qui, personnellement me faire tenir dans ce métier de photographe, j’aime cette façon de voir les choses. J’aime cette façon de voir le métier de photographe, comme finalement il aurait toujours du perdurer. Les passionés de photographie et d’art nourrissent la fibre inventive des quelques survivants de l’industrie créative.
Je pense qu’on est simplement dans une période d’abondance et de forte compétition qui amène parfois et pour certains, à casser les prix du marché de la photographie.

Je pense et j’espère que ce n’est qu’un passage un peu rude qui tend à s’apaiser avec le temps à force de voir autant d’images si peu considérées. Je crois au perfectionnisme, à la fibre artistique et à la qualité.


Je crois en l’Art et en le « pourquoi » on a commencé à créer avec cet outil qu’est la lumière et ce médium qu’est la photographie. Etre photographe, c’est tout de même pouvoir répondre à une soif de liberté que tout le monde n’a pas aujourd’hui encore. C’est aussi un des arts qui arrive à évoluer avec son temps, avec l’ère du numérique, même si l’évolution ne va pas toujours dans le bon sens. Il y a quand même cette possibilité de pouvoir continuer à exercer comparé à d’autres arts où il est encore plus compliqué d’en vivre.

00 LIFE bd
Life by Samantha Martinez

Se passioner

Mais finalement, peu m’importe si un jour je n’arrive plus à vivre de la photographie. Aujourd’hui je trouve des compromis qui me permettent de m’y retrouver mais si un jour il me faut arrêter ce métier parce que les compromis deviennent invivables, ce n’est pas pour autant que j’arrêterais la photographie. Etre photographe c’est bien plus qu’un simple métier. C’est un réel moyen de s’exprimer, une véritable passion.
«Pour moi, la photographie est un terrain d’entente, une paix.
Je veux que quand les gens voient mon image, je veux qu’ils soient d’accord. »

Samantha Martinez