Putting Together a Modeling Portfolio: Common Mistakes and How to Avoid Them

DO – Great pose, composition and futuristic mood by Oladimeji Odunsi


When first beginning a career as a model, you likely won’t have many contacts in the industry. Before establishing the kind of reputation that will open doors and secure bookings, the only way to get a start in the business is simply by having a really strong portfolio, full of top quality photography.

The problem is, when you’re new to the modeling world it can be difficult to identify all the different elements that go into making a good photograph. You might know what you like when you see it on Instagram, but the fashion world doesn’t always function in the same way as social media.

And so some of your favorite photos might not in fact be the ones that will get you jobs.


How do you go about putting together a professional looking modeling portfolio?

Which kinds of images should you include? And, perhaps more importantly, which ones should you leave out?

In large part this is a question of good taste. But taste is not something anybody is born with. And nor can taste be easily explained: it’s just something you come to instinctively know. Indeed, good taste develops over time, with experience.

Looking on the positive side, then, this at least offers some hope for those of us who still can’t tell the difference between a good and a bad fashion photograph: sooner or later we’ll acquire this knowledge. Yet knowing this doesn’t help us to solve the immediate problem of which photos to put in our portfolio.

Luckily though, even if you are still relatively new to the world of photography and styling, there are some pointers you can look out for when trying to decide which images you should – and should not – include in your modeling portfolio. Here we take a look at some of the most important ones in turn.

DON’T – With its awkward pose, over the top styling, unconvincing retouching, and weird color palette, this photo is a master-class in how not to shoot a good fashion image.


Know Your Market


The photos in your portfolio need to be appropriate to the kind of work you are suited to doing as a model. There’s no point in selecting super arty fashion images if your look is classic beauty and you’re more suited to commercial work – such as lifestyle advertising or swimwear catalogues.

Likewise, it would be pointless to fill your book with clean and romantic wedding-style images if you’ve got a strong, quirky, or characteristic face that will be more of interest to high fashion and cutting edge editorial clients.

DO!! – High Fashion oriented test photoshoot by Nick Karvounis

As a rule, if your look is quite commercial, you’ll probably want to use photos with a fairly upbeat vibe, clean lighting, and showing you in scenarios of the kind typically seen in lifestyle advertising campaigns. On the other hand, if your face is more likely to end up on the cover of I-D or Dazed than helping to sell coffee or toothpaste, then you will want to avoid overly clean and commercial photography and go for more arty, moody, and even aggressive images.

DO!! – Commercial style photo by Eduardo Dutra


This means that you need to have a clear and objective understanding of your look as a model.

If in doubt, ask for advice from photographers, stylists and other industry professionals.

Consulting friends with no fashion industry experience is probably not a good idea though, as the average person has a very inaccurate understanding of what makes a good model – usually just assuming that the main qualification is classic physical attractiveness. So asking your mom, partner, or friends whether they think you are best suited to mainstream advertising or edgy editorial will likely not prove very illuminating.

Also, note that the kinds of photos required for a good acting portfolio usually differ somewhat from those appropriate for fashion modeling. For actors, photos tend to be less about strong atmosphere and style, and much more about clearly showing your face and personality. Indeed, acting photography is often quite simple and neutral, with more emphasis on expression and movement, and showing the actor’s ability to adapt to a wide range of characters and roles.

DO!! – Acting portrait of Dash by Ylane Duparc

Naturally, some models will need to cover more than one market – say commercial advertising and acting. If this applies to you, you’ll probably need to include both styles of photography in your portfolio.

Styling

DON’T – Inappropriate and overly-dominant styling can detract from the effect your photos will have on the viewer

There’s a reason why people hire professional stylists: not all of us dress as well as we think we do. Just because you’re aiming to put together a fashion portfolio doesn’t mean you should fill it with lots of obvious fashion items. That’s the stylist’s or client’s job once you get booked for a shoot.

But if your portfolio contains unsophisticated styling – overly fussy outfits in cheap synthetic materials; fast-fashion; clothes that are no longer on trend, or perhaps never werethen you may never get that booking in the first place.

Your portfolio needs to show off your potential as a model, not your talents (or lack of them) as a stylist. Many industry professionals will be seriously put-off by bad styling in your photos. And if they are too busy looking at glaring fashion crimes, they’ll likely not be paying all that much attention to you and your true talents as a model.

However, if you don’t have a good stylist who you can work with, then clearly you’ll have no choice but to do things yourself. But even if you feel confident in this area though, try to keep the styling as neutral as possible. Any item of clothing that is super on-trend today will be totally out of fashion tomorrow – meaning that your photos will have a very short lifespan before they become embarrassing and unusable. Be particularly cautious about adding any showy accessories to your outfit.

Instead, go for classic and unfussy items, in just one or two simple colors, as these will be much less likely to date quickly. You can also ask the photographer to make less of a feature of the clothes by means of the lighting or framing.  

DO!! – In this photo the styling is barely noticeable, making the image all about the model and her expression.


Lighting

Skillful use of studio lighting can transform a good photo into an amazing one. But bad studio lighting will look cheap and amateurish. The problem is, if you are not an experienced professional photographer, you are probably not qualified to judge what classes as “good “ or “bad” studio lighting.

However, many of the people viewing your book will have years of experience in this area, and will immediately be able to spot the difference. And if they don’t like the lighting in your photos, this will detract from their overall impression of your portfolio.

Rather than going for dramatically lit photos that risk alienating your audience, better to stick to ones taken using natural light, as these are less at risk of looking cheesy or fake. In any case, natural light is incredibly versatile, and a talented photographer will be able to work with the available lighting to create a variety of moods.

With that said, if you’ve worked with an experienced photographer who is already at a high level in their career, and they used studio lighting on your shoot, you should of course put your complete trust in their photographic abilities. Just bear in mind that in photography “a high level” does not simply mean having lots of Instagram followers, but actual commissions from prestigious magazines and clients.


Framing and Point of View

Photos in your portfolio should be about you, not about showing how talented the photographer is. Mostly you’ll want photos without any distracting elements coming into frame, and maybe with the background nicely blurred out. This way you can be sure that the viewer is looking at you – not at the photographer’s clever composition, or worse still, at some annoying detail the photographer accidentally included in the background.

Be wary of selecting photos for your portfolio that were shot using a wide angle lens, as these distort perspective and are unflattering for the face. They are also likely to include much more background in the shot, while also keeping these background elements relatively in focus – and therefore potentially distracting.

DON’T – Be careful where you plant that palm tree!


Similarly, avoid using any photos where your position in the frame coincides with background elements (blurred or otherwise), as these can be annoying for the viewer. Classic examples of this are when trees or lampposts appear to “grow” out of a model’s head.

In short, try to select images with a simple, graphic composition and which don’t include a lot of unnecessary clutter and distractions in the frame.

Expression and Pose

DON’T – The pose needs to tell a coherent story


For some reason, when people think of high fashion photos, they often imagine melodramatic and over-the-top poses. Or models looking longingly off into the distance, their hair glamorously tussled by a wind-machine. Yes, occasionally a well-known photographer might go for a very stylized and camp look (some, like David LaChapelle, have even made a career out of it). But such photos tend to be the exception. In any case, when poses are seriously exaggerated in this way, it’s likely because the photographer is looking for an effect that is quite tongue in cheek.

For the rest of us, though, it’s better to avoid the “arms in the air and shielding your eyes from the atom bomb” pose. Or indeed anything remotely similar.

DON’T – Nothing can compete with a woman’s love for…rustic masonry.

Even quite simple and undramatic poses can look bad if they are stiff, unnatural, or make no sense within the context of the photo: for example, one leg slightly raised or a hand touching the wall for no apparent reason.

DON’T – “What do you mean? I always stand on one leg with an arm over my head”


And watch out for nervous reactions such as running your fingers through your hair or placing a hand on your temple or forehead. For some reason the latter is a favorite pose of non-professional male models  – perhaps because they believe it makes them look pensive and mysterious, like James Dean.

DON’T – Placing your hands in unnatural positions such as this will only make you look like you are uncomfortable in front of the camera. Better to remain relaxed and natural in your pose.


In reality, what these poses actually look like is that the photographer didn’t give sufficient direction to the model; and feeling self-conscious in front of the camera, the model tried to think of something to do with their hands. Even many top models feel self-conscious when being photographed. That’s totally normal. What’s important is that the self-consciousness doesn’t come across in the photos: rather than striking weird poses, focus on building inner strength and charisma.

A good fashion photograph has a lot in common with a good portrait. And just as with a portrait, where you place your hands (or indeed any other part of your body) isn’t as important as what’s going on inside your mind. Get into the right mood and mental state, and this will show in your posture, on your face, and in how you play with the camera. I.e. work on how you feel inside, and your external pose will come naturally. After that it’s the photographer’s job to capture the moment.

And here we get to one of the most important points: the pose you strike in a shot is only 50% your responsibility. Fashion photography is always a collaborative process, and the results depend upon there being a strong rapport between model and photographer.

This might mean that the photographer gives you clear instruction as to what they want you to do, explaining their concept and objectives in a way that’s easy to understand. But it can also be as simple as demonstrating respect for you, and leaving you room to be yourself. Or developing a relaxed and positive working environment. Even if the shoot takes place in near-silence, there can be an unspoken understanding; like you are both tuned into the same vibe, with the same goals.

DON’T – It seems unlikely that anyone would spontaneously choose to lean against the middle of a window. Aside from anything else, it just doesn’t look very comfortable. A suspicion that is confirmed by the unnatural and tense positioning of the model’s hands. Bad styling and heavy-handed retouching complete the shot.


Remember: If you feel uncomfortable (either physically or in any other way); you probably look uncomfortable. Conversely, if you feel relaxed, confident, and at ease; you’ll likely look great. If the photographer has put you in an unusual pose, ask yourself why? What’s the point? And if you can’t think of any reason why somebody would naturally assume that position other than because a photographer asked them too, then it probably doesn’t work. And if it feels awkward, it likely looks even more awkward.

Really though, the word “pose” is part of the problem, as it suggests a fixed position. Good photographs usually come out of a situation that is more lively and spontaneous, or just simple and relaxed. Look at campaigns for the brand Margaret Howell by Alasdair McLellan: one of the most important fashion photographers working right now. There’s no ridiculous posing. No exaggerated facial expressions. Just simple, confident postures and a good dose of attitude from the model.

DON’T – Even a fairly simple and undramatic pose can look bad if it is stiff and inhibited looking.

Retouching and Filters

DON’T – In this case an otherwise quite acceptable photo has been ruined by a very obvious black vignette and totally unnatural skin retouching

As with pretty much anything in fashion photography, the higher you move up in the industry, the more subtle and under-stated things tend to become. Again, there are exceptions here, but most top-end fashion photography will at least look like it hasn’t been messed around with too much in photoshop. In reality of course, a lot of postproduction work may have been done to the images – but this will rarely be apparent to the average viewer.

Photos that rely upon a lot of heavy-handed postproduction in order to “pop” (e.g. crazy colors and exaggerated sharpening effects) are not good photos. Avoid using obvious Instagram-style filters that radically alter the colors or contrast of your images. And forego the temptation to add a dense, black vignette around the edge of the frame. Other effects that will cheapen the look of your photos include HD (high definition) photography and the old trick of turning a photo to black and white, leaving just one element still in color (red shoes, blue eyes etc.).

And what about skin retouching? Well, there’s a big difference between removing a few imperfections and adjusting skin tone so it looks healthy, versus the amateurish application of Photoshop “frequency separation” techniques (you know, the ones that leave the model’s face looking like a featureless, glowing pancake).

Again, if it looks natural, it probably looks good. But if you can easily see what the photographer has done, that’s usually a bad sign.

Watermarks, Logos, and Graphics

As mentioned in our recent guide to managing photographer’s image rights, adding a watermark or logo to a photo isn’t particularly classy. And while graphics of this kind tend to be more tolerated within fully commercial styles of photography – particularly wedding photography for some reason –  they are definitely off-limits for anyone trying to build a modeling career in the edgier, more creative, and higher end of the fashion industry.

Of course, it’s perfectly reasonable that a photographer might want their work to be credited in your portfolio – especially if the photo was from an unpaid test shoot. However, there are more subtle and sophisticated ways of achieving this than by adding tacky graphics directly over the image itself. If a photographer has provided you with the files from a shoot with a watermark or logo already on them, you’d do well to ask for clean copies. Instead you can offer to add a simple typed credit next to the photo in your book and promise not to share these files without the photographer’s permission.

It almost goes without saying though, that the above advice only applies to graphics of a “personal branding” variety. But if the photos are from editorial work or an advertising campaign for a prestigious client, you will of course want to show this off in your portfolio by using tear sheets or original digital files – complete with branding and logo etc.

Final Thoughts

DON’T – Unnatural colors, overly retouched skin, a distracting earring, and an obviously fake pose all combine to make this image a poor choice for the model’s portfolio

Nobody expects your portfolio to be filled with totally cutting edge fashion items and world-class photography right from day one. Anyone in the fashion industry who knows what they are doing will be able to spot your potential without the need for you to spell it out with over the top photography and styling.

In any case, individual photographers, stylists, and clients tend to vary considerably in what they are looking for in a model’s portfolio. While some will definitely be paying attention to the photography and clothes to get an idea of the kind of editorial and commissions you’ve previously worked on, others will mostly skip the professional images and go directly to your polaroids at the back of the book.

This is because some people are less interested in learning how another photographer or stylist has used lighting, clothing, hair, and makeup etc to change your appearance. After all, they might not even like that particular photographer or stylist’s work. Instead, they want to see who you are “in the raw.”  To find out what makes you you, so that they can interpret your talent in a way that works with their own creative vision.

For this reason, when putting together a modeling portfolio, you should try to select a good mix of images: from strongly styled and more obviously fashion-oriented shots to some very neutral “straight up” portraits that show who you are in your more natural state.

As a general rule though, the simpler and more natural looking a photograph is, the better a candidate it’s likely to be for putting in your book. Keep the photography subtle and understated, so it’s you that shines.


Extraordinary Models: meet Aimee Mullins

Propelled into the top 50 most beautiful women in the world by People magazine in 2000, Aimee Mullins is both a great athlete and an exceptional model. Aimee deserves her beauty title, because not only she is gorgeous, but also because her brave heart has led her to overcome many difficulties.

A modern fairy tale…?

She was born in 1975 with a leg problem. Amputee below the knee at the age of one year, she grew up accepting her difference and sublimating it.

Although she comes from a working-class environment, her tenacity gave her access to the most prestigious studies.

To pay for her studies, she took small jobs like delivering newspapers and door-to-door sales. A father was Irish, a mason, and her mother was a saleswoman who almost became a nun.

This is actually not a fairy tale. Others would have quickly given up the idea of a prestigious life, but her parents taught her how to be resilient in the gloomy setting of Pennsylvania, against a backdrop of factories in ruins.

She first attended Parkland High School in Allentown but often had to be absent in order to attend the hospital. She then studied at Georgetown University in Washington. Then, she got chosen for a scholarship for an internship from the Pentagon as part of a program for the Department of Defense. In exchange for her scholarship, she was obliged to work seven years for the state. After 2 years she gave this up because she got tired of hearing people complaining about their lives.


She then discovered athletics which she practiced at a high level. At first, she thought it was impossible.

« Running with one leg less requires 40% more oxygen and twice the energy. So, with two legs less … One kilometer for you, it’s four for me. » she says.

An athlete at the Paralympics of Atlanta…

She became the first amputee athlete to compete in the National Collegiate Athletic Association. She was at the 1996 Paralympic Games in Atlanta, and at just 19, she broke the world records in the 100-meter, 200-meter and long jump.
To her, her success is part of the American dream :

« This is America, she says. If a little girl with an amputated leg has a dream, she finds people who help her fullfil it ».

This is no less than an American success story. People can’t get enough of her and she begins to appear on the covers of magazines. She is invited to conferences of movers and shakers. She promoted the Women’s Sports Foundation, of which she became president in 2007.  

Love-wise, she fell in love at the age of 15. And here again, Aimée Mullins’s makes light of her problems.

“When he realized … it was too late, he was already addicted. One of his friends had just told him: “It’s nice to go out with her,” he did not understand. I thought he knew.”

Aimee Mullins
Aimee Mullins

A fashion model and actress

The fashion designer Alexander McQueen noticed her and asked her to take part in his London show, wearing hand-carved ash prostheses. Immediately, the criticism began. The stylist was criticized for taking advantage of Aimée’s disability to promote his work.

He defended himself: “I just want to expand the idea of beauty”.

As for Aimee Mullins, she ironically quips: ” Pamela Anderson has more prosthetic in her body than I do.  »

Expanding the criteria of beauty…

Breaking the canons of classical beauty takes courage, not only for models but also for stylists and photographers. Aimee had the chance to meet generous and inventive creators. And for her, luck was not going to stop there.

In 2004, photographer Nick Knight chose her for the Pirelli calendar. A career in acting then opened up to her and she appeared in an episode of the series Hercule Poirot adapted from the novels of Agatha Christie. Subsequently, Oliver Stone insists on getting her on the cast of his film World Trade Center as a journalist.

On the cinema side, she was also a member of some festival juries, such as the Kars Festival in 2008 and the Taormina Film Festival in 2009.

At the end of 2010, Aimee Mullins sealed a partnership with the L’Oréal Foundation to “defend another vision of beauty and rethink canons of beauty in an era of robotics and bionics”.

And she takes this relationship with L’Oréal seriously:

«The ‘Because I’m worth it’ tag line means a lot to me,” Mullins says. “Beauty is not skin deep; it can be a means of self-affirmation, a true indicator of personality and confidence »

Aimee Mullins for L'Oréal
Aimee Mullins for L’Oréal

Now, the public has come to know this new muse who has 12 pairs of prosthetic legs and can go from 1m72 to 1m85 according to her whims or the requirements of a fashion show.

When we talk about her we often mention her leg bag that she never leaves. She does not take offense and has learned to speak without embarrassment of the hybridization of her body with technologies.

Matthew Barney in his film Cremaster has created a hybrid character that she marvelously embodies with glass legs. She can also be seen in the Netflix production and hit series Stranger Things.

She now participates in scientific symposiums on hybridization and sees herself as a kind of prototype:
«People who were earlier seen as disabled can become architects of their own identity».

However, Aimee Mullins concludes her interview about the future of hybridization by this prophetic formula:

« Everything can be replaced, except for the soul».

But as always with Aimee Mullins, the humor comes after the depth. Never dramatize. Her dream?

«Rocket prostheses to fly or levitate. That would be great. I often dream of riding legs that run on their own».

This supermodel never ceases to amaze us …

The Women’s Museum recognizes Aimee Mullins as one of the greatest female figures of the 20th century, and in 2017 she became one of the youngest women in the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Thierry AZZOPARDI

Lea T, supermodel and much more

It is no coincidence that Lea T starred in the Givenchy ad campaign featuring transgender models in 2010 and that since then, she keeps appearing on the brand’s runway…

Black and White duo portrait of Lea T.

But why should we especially care?

Because she is the first transgender supermodel to make a career, a real first in the history of fashion, but also in the chronology of the progress of society. The fashion world is changing dramatically. And after Andrej Pejic’s sex change, we can say that fashion has gone beyond gender biases.

Lea T, a great career despite a tough life…

Lea T. was born under the name of Leandro Cerezo. She was born in 1981 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, and grew up in a wealthy, Catholic family. A difficult environment for this young man who dreams of having beautiful breasts and high heels.

As a child, she dreamed of becoming a veterinarian. Nothing predestined Lea to a career in fashion but rather she seemed destined to a life in sport, with a father who was in football, officiating at international level.

Luckily, Toninho Cerezo, her father won a contract in an Italian football team and took his family with him. It is from this moment that Lea began to assert herself although she did not know yet whether she prefered men or women, she explains ” not having a defined sexuality or a precise direction to follow”.

The birth of Lea

Leandro, or Leo as she was called then, eventually became Lea. The instigation of this transformation? Certainly, one strong influence was Riccardo Tisci, who was the director of the Givenchy collection at the time, who encouraged her to feel like a woman and to dress accordingly. He made her wear Drag Queen shoes and advised her to dye her eyebrows. Moreover, the letter T which accompanies her first name is a reference to Tisci. She then continued with hormonal treatment. After posing for the Italian Vanity Fair, she appeared naked in the August edition of the French edition of Vogue. The left hand covering her male genitalia.

The hardship behind determination

But this path was not easy for Lea T who appeared at that moment very lucid and somewhat pessimistic: ” I cannot allow myself the luxury of being in love, we transsexuals are born and grow up alone. After the operation we are born again, but once again alone. And we die alone. It is the price we pay. “she confided.

Although her father had difficulty in accepting her transformation, her family did not reject her and always supported her in her career. The 29-year-old, already applauded on the Milanese or Parisian podium, is now considered the first transsexual supermodel. A few years later, Lea revealed to the world the story of her transformation and now works to help other models who want to assert their difference.

“Life’s what you make of it”…

In November 2014, she became the face of the American brand Redken, which belongs to L’Oréal, joining Sky Ferreira and Chiara Ferragni in the ranks of the muses of the firm.

Shortly before, she appeared kissing Kate Moss on the sultry cover of Love Magazine.

Lea T kissing Kate Moss

The secret of Lea T is also knowing how to take risks by displaying her difference for those who have suffered like her.

In 2017, Lea T spoke on Brazilian television alongside her father to discuss her difficult story.

A supermodel on the rise

Recently we could see her in the campaign “Nike be true” which celebrates the LGBTQ community, using colors and symbols of the community, and specifically around the lavender hue and the pink triangle, combined with the colors of the rainbow.

Besides fashion, the model is now a spokesperson for diversity, within fashion, helping young people who suffer from their differences…

In her last interview, Lea T said, “I never wanted to be a woman: I’m transsexual,” adding, “Life’s what you make it …”

Recently, in an interview with a Brazilian newspaper, Lea T claimed to have met an alien and dated a famous actor without revealing his name. Decidedly, Lea T will always remain an alien in the world of fashion and will do everything to remain forever.

She’s a real inspiration for the people looking at using their uniqueness to change the status quo. Let us know in the comments which models inspire you the most!

By EVW

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.

By EVW
By EVW

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.

Ellen Von Unwerth, photographe et mannequin…

« Mon univers est un monde de femmes avec comme accessoires … des hommes (rires) » …

English version

Ellen Von Unwerth est la preuve que la photographie de mode n’est pas l’apanage des hommes. Ses photos n’ont rien à envier aux maîtres masculins car, cette ancienne modèle allemande devenue photographe, offre un regard fort et novateur sur la mode. Alors que certains auraient pu craindre qu’une femme pose un regard trop tendre sur les autres femmes, voilà un préjugé que celle qu’on prénomme Von a tout simplement balayé.

Ces clichés sont parfois troublants, sexy, provocateurs voir même dérangeants. Von a été la première à photographier Claudia Schiffer et à avoir remporté le premier prix au « Festival international de la photographie de mode » en 1991. Ses photographies de Vanessa Paradis, de Kate Moss, de Rihanna, entre autres, ont fait le tour du monde. Son travail apparaît dans des magazines prestigieux comme Vogue et Vanity Fair. Elle a également assuré les campagnes publicitaires de grandes marques telles que Guess, Chanel ou Diesel. Son œuvre a été présentée dans Archaeologye of Elegance en 2002 et au Fashioning Fiction organisé par le MoMA PS1en 2004. Son roman photo Revenge s’est accompagné d’expositions dans les plus grandes capitales.

Photos cinétiques…

« J’aime saisir et capturer la personne en mouvement tout en racontant une histoire. »

Son secret réside certainement dans le mouvement. Il y a dans ses photographies une mise en scène cinétique qui donne vie à ses modèles. Elle a commencé à prendre des photos de ses amies mannequins en leur laissant choisir leur pose puis a décidé d’imposer une esthétique où la pudeur n’a pas sa place.

Comme le confiait Vanessa Paradis, poser avec Von est un exercice très amusant : on entre dans l’univers de l’artiste et on se laisse aller à ses excentricités car on sent que c’est une véritable artiste. Von Unwerth explore des fantasmes féminins qui lui sont familiers et ne s’embarrasse pas de principes. Ses modèles prennent un plaisir non dissimulé à boire, fumer, manger, etc.

La spontanéité de ses images et le reflet du bonheur qu’on ses modèles n’échapperont pas à l’amateur de photo d’art. En témoigne cette photographie sur laquelle trois très belles blondes croquent ensemble la même pomme d’amour. Erreur finalement car les modèles ne mangent pas, ne boivent, de fument pas vraiment chez Von Unwerth – elles font semblant. L’essentiel est ce décalage entre l’activité proposée et le corps, les regards qui partent ailleurs.

Von raconte la double vie de ses modèles : Vanessa Paradis lisant un magazine mais regardant ailleurs, affichant un désir dont elle seule détient le secret. Objet de désir, mais aussi actrice du désir qu’elle provoque.  Ou bien David Bowie et Kate Moss qui pose lascivement, alors que le sourire et le regard de Bowie ne sont pas posés sur Kate. Dioni Tabbers qui boit du lait mais pense résolument à autre chose. Et Von s’amuse de ses clins d’œil qu’on croyait liés à la virilité. (Voir son livre « Fraulein » consacrée à la sexualité féminine)

Eva Herzigova

Une photographie féminine ?

Von a su se démarquer en donnant du pouvoir à ses modèles qui semblent toujours être maîtresses de leurs désirs.  Des clichés qui, bien qu’ils soient dénués de toute pudeur, n’accable pas les femmes pour autant. Bien que représentées comme des objets de désir, leurs regards restent puissants et jamais avilis. Elles ne sont pas de simples objets de plaisir, mais au contraire, elles participent à la fête- elles sont des détonateurs de volupté. Ellen Von Unwerth a su casser les codes de la photographie de mode et a amené la femme à s’amuser du désir des hommes. En témoigne ce cliché d’une superbe féline qui traverse la route avec un routier qui la prend bêtement en photo du haut de son camion.  

Les hommes sont toujours un peu bêtes chez Von Unwerth. On leur fait facilement tourner la tête. Et elle le sait. Elle confie dans une interview :

“Mon univers est un monde de femmes avec comme accessoires … des hommes (rires) “…

La photographe allemande adore donner à ses modèles des poses de pin up un peu idiotes sans ignorer le pouvoir que ces clichés peuvent avoir sur la gent masculine. Von aime les ingénues, car, bien entendu, elles trompent leur monde. Souvent ses modèles ont une sucette ou un doigt entre les lèvres. Un spectacle qui éveille le désir et dont Von se régale.

Sa série Revenge, par exemple est devenue un classique du genre. Ellen Von Unwerth explore ici son imaginaire avec des photos en noir et blanc qui nous transportent dans un univers mêlant fétichisme et féminité. Les regards croisés de ses modèles sont étudiés avec une grande maîtrise. Les femmes prennent leur revanche, et Von s’en amuse follement.

D’ailleurs, sur les photos que les paparazzi ont pu prendre de la photographe allemande, on la voit toujours arborer un sourire éclatant.

Ellen Von Unwerth

Elle l’avoue elle-même. C’est parce que la photographie l’amusait que le modèle a abandonné l’univers glamour des défilés de mode pour passer derrière l’objectif. Et cela, pour notre plus grand plaisir.

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

Twiggy

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.

Thierry AZZOPARDI