Penelope Cruz, Paris, 2003.
Ellen von Unwerth, the rock star of fashion photography, is glancing around the Izzy Gallery in Yorkville, where life-sized photographs of her iconic shots cover the walls. She’s struggling to select her favourite snap. “They all have something I love in them,” she muses after a moment of hesitation. Then she points to a photograph of Italian actress Monica Bellucci, stripped down to a matching leopard-printed bra and panties. “This shot is from the first photo shoot I ever did with [Monica],” von Unwerth recalls with the sentimental attachment of a proud mother. “And she was actually just changing in the motor home. It was really its own moment. I’ve shot her so many times since but those pictures are still my favourite.”
That’s because von Unwerth— named one of TIME’s top 100 all-time fashion icons—prefers to capture “stolen moments” rather than posed portraits. For the first time since von Unwerth shot to fame in the ‘80s, the self-taught German photog is displaying a retrospective of her work in Toronto. A selection of the frisky, bombshell icons von Unwerth has snapped over the years, Caught! is a decadent visual walkthrough of old-school female glamour.
Rouilly le Bas, 2002.
A von Unwerth signature
The thing about a von Unwerth photo is that it’s instantly recognizable. Take the iconic Claudia Schiffer Guess campaign from 1989, a prime example of von Unwerth’s trademark moody, eroticized aesthetic—a gorgeous woman teasing the camera with a mix of innocence and cheeky come-hither sensuality. “I always go for glamorous,” says von Unwerth, a vision herself in a gold sequined blazer and side-swept, piecey blond bun. “I don’t like the girl-next-door look.”