German-born Ellen von Unwerth is without a doubt one of the most influential contemporary fashion photographers and also one of the most important female photographers of the past few decades. Her clients include the biggest names in the industry.
It is thus only fitting that this year, the eighth issue of Leica S Magazine was selected to showcase her creations in the form of a narrative photo book. These are pictures that are only superficially trendy and à la mode, but are in fact more of a reflection of the ideas of a truly great photographer.
It simply had to be done. The fact that the entire production was shot with the Leica S, which as a photographic tool undoubtedly influenced the visual language, is just as essential to the project as the fact that Ellen von Unwerth was given completely free rein. This is of course a unique opportunity and an unusual luxury as commercial shootings are usually created according to the customers’ requests. Below is an excerpt of the interview conducted by LFI.
S Magazine: Now the magazine is finished! Ellen, tell us in retrospect about the production of this issue.
Ellen von Unwerth: It’s been a great project because you get the space you need and as much freedom as you want. This is something quite different from a magazine spread. It’s almost like a book. This is the reason why we came up with many, many ideas.
Three days before the shoot you revised the concept for this issue of S Magazine. This seems quite spontaneous!
Yes and no. In everything I do, it is important to keep my creative freedom. A concept is of course important, but I must have the possibility to react if I discover something special. In this case, we found that there were places that were suddenly available to us, like this great Western town and James Goldstein’s Lautner villa and they could give the story an entirely different perspective. We did not make the concept brand new, but instead adapted it for these locations. The same applies when you can unexpectedly work with a special person or when an unpredictable situation arises during the shoot. The concept for a shoot is important to me because it is a framework for action that leaves my options open.
How did you get the idea for this issue of S Magazine?
We realized quite quickly that we did not want to create a compilation of images from different shoots, but instead a coherent story. We wanted a narrative and then we thought we could create something even greater and almost cinematic. Therefore, we divided the story into four chapters and each of the shoots was organized as if we were making a movie.
So you became the director!
You shouldn’t take the story too seriously. I’m not a screenwriter, but it’s a nice story, a nice framework which allows you to play around a lot.
What’s the story?
The story revolves around this girl gang and that’s why I used several figures and characters – because it would be boring otherwise – who take over this Western town and try their luck at diamond mining. And indeed, the girls are lucky and find that huge diamond. Suddenly they have such an incredible amount of money that they can buy this great house – the James Goldstein villa. Then they try to host wild gambling parties with their money in order to meet people. They get to know lots of people and are introduced to a secret society. It’s at a party for this Secret Society where one of the girls is kidnapped by this truly evil villain. To raise the ransom, they have to sell everything they have. It’s the end of the dream. They are furious and lure the villain to this Western town to take him by surprise and hang him. But the victim has now fallen in love with her kidnapper and is heartbroken. At the last minute, she manages to persuade her friends to save him from the gallows. Cut! And finally there is the big happy ending and they both get married. The End.
Sounds wild. Why did you go with a Western?
Oh, for me it’s many different influences coming together. Westerns are somehow part of the zeitgeist. The Western style reflects current fashion and then I was inspired by this Tarantino movie. But my Hateful Eight are just girls.
The story with Marilyn Manson and James Goldstein driving around was not originally planned. How did it happen?
As I said already that it is important for me to be spontaneous in my work. You have to keep it simple. I was shooting a party the evening before and Johnny Depp and Marilyn Manson were sitting together. I told them what I had planned to do and Marilyn just asked if he could take part. And because I thought that he was a super fit into the Secret Society’s story and also extroverted enough, I agreed. Manson didn’t even think twice, he just wanted to know when and where, and asked what he should bring and whether his fabulous girlfriend Lindsay Usich could also join in. Of course, he was there the next day. They had fun doing it. It’s clear why we adapted the story, right?
And James Goldstein? Was his Sheats Goldstein Residence an original part of the story?
Yes, Goldstein has a great house; I immediately wanted to have it for the story. I have known his mansion for a long time. Many movies have been filmed there like The Big Lebowski, but music videos too like Snoop Dogg’s Get Blown. The weather also played along with the story. This doomsday scenario we had been shooting at the villa has a very special twist. In addition, James is a pretty open-minded, entertaining type. With all the beautiful women and the great styling, of course he was interested in being in it.
To read the full interview, please visit LFI’s website.