Celebrating ‘International Women’s Day’ in Photography
Today, we want to focus on most arguably one of the greatest and most controversial female photographers of our time…
Ellen Von Unwerth
Ellen von Unwerth is a photographer and director, specializing in erotic femininity.
She was born in Germany in 1954, and after working as a fashion model for 10 years she decided to get her creative cap on and get behind the camera, putting the shoe on the other foot so to speak.
Her work has been featured in magazines such as I-D, Vanity Fair, and Vogue, just to name a few.
Although her images can be suggestive they never cross the line of objectifying women or make you as a viewer feel uncomfortable.
In an interview, she confessed “When somebody’s not moving I get bored. I take two pictures and I say: ‘Great, I have it now.’ But I love the body in movement. I like the nude body in movement.”
Her images celebrate femininity instead of traditionally putting it out there purely for the pleasure of men.
“Women are not just there to be admired,
they are there to be enjoyed.”
– Ellen Von Unwerth
How does the gender of the photographer affect your perception of the image?
Do men photograph other men differently to women?
Do women photography other women better than a male photographer?
So what does make Ellen’s images so different?
You might think the simple answer is that they are shot by a woman, but is there more to it than that? Of course there is!
Looking at her collections there is no doubt that it is the women in her shots that are taking charge and have the control, and not Unwerth.
They don’t stand round to pose like a lion in a cage. There is such a relaxed and playful element to her shots, which just screams fun!
Unwerth will give her model’s very little direction and let them act naturally with the environment around her, hoping that the images are more organic and unique.
“which is the most important thing: a woman should fight for that.” – Ellen Von Unwerth.
The print quality of her photographs might not always be crystal clear, but it is very clear that this is her own unique style and that the movement helps to portray the storytelling element within her images, which is vital.
In this instance, Unwerth is more interested in content over quality.
“Being in front of the lens
you are very Vulnerable”
– Ellen Von Unwerth
“The difference is that I don’t stand behind the camera drooling. I think that women open up more to a female photographer. It’s like little girls playing around. You can be a bit naughty and do things you wouldn’t do in front of boys. It’s more relaxed somehow. I think it’s an empowering experience – and no, I don’t believe they are objectified.”
– Ellen Von Unwerth
The collection of images, feature artist Stehli in a studio with a collection of men she knew, each of whom watched her strip while controlling the camera.
As she took off her clothes, they chose the precise moment at which to take the shot. It’s an interesting assessment to see when each of the men took their photographs.
Stehli felt it was giving her an insight as to what they wanted to remember of her and what they saw as her beauty.
Some went for the fully-clothed portion, others for the part where she was completely naked.
But it’s still an astonishing reflection on viewing when it comes to the female body in the world.
The main point to pick up from this is to focus on the male expression in this series, some of them look uncomfortable, even though they are the ones fully clothed and in control of the camera.
It was interesting in the experiment, to see how one man, in particular, felt uncomfortable and this was reflected in the stills he captured.
He took the photograph when Stehli was looking awkward, or standing on one leg.
As much as the men believe they are taking a photograph of Stehli, they themselves, actually become the main focus of the shot, it is an inadvertent self-portrait.
It was seen as a groundbreaking approach to photography at the time, where the photographer was the prop and the subject became the photographer at the same time.
The simple neutral colours of the background kept the attention on the action and the same camera settings were used throughout to make sure the results were consistent for the series.
As Stehli puts it:
“It’s the men’s self-consciousness that is uncomfortable
when you really look at those pictures.”
there is no doubt that “sex-sells”, you would only need to turn on your TV and look at the spectrum of beautiful people used in advertising.
If the model feels uncomfortable, it will clearly be reflected in their face and eyes. This awkwardness mirrors the expression of the audience and then leaves them feeling cold and uncomfortable too.
The point is quite simple…
women want to look beautiful
and be portrayed as beautiful
(both inside and out).
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