Ellen von Unwerth’s “Devotion! 30 Years of Photographing Women” Retrospective at Fotografiska New York

Seven galleries worth of thoughtful, provocative pop culture imagery from the acclaimed photographer

The creative forces behind Fotografiska (co-founders and brothers Jan and Per Broman) continue to open international locations that share a mission with their Stockholm flagship. More than photography museums, these social art spaces focus on curatorial topics that push boundaries and address the humanity behind the artistry and craft. Few exhibits could propel such concepts further than Devotion! 30 Years of Photographing Women, an expansion of a retrospective dedicated to the work of German photographer Ellen von Unwerth that debuted in Sweden several years back. Seven galleries in the revitalized faux-Gothic landmark on Park Avenue South highlight von Unwerth’s exploration of gender and celebration of lust and transgressive humor. Further, this inaugural exhibition heralds the capabilities of Fotografiska New York.

Von Unwerth taps into bliss. In this exhibition, her work may have been arranged into seven thematic chapters (play, gender, drama, love, power, passion and lust) but, regardless of classification, all her subjects convey emotion, empowerment, joy and spontaneity. From Bananarama and Rihanna album covers to Dior campaigns, Vogue spreads and celebrity portraiture, von Unwerth’s portfolio crisscrosses cultural milestones and media. Some 30 years ago, she began to work with Claudia Schiffer. Their relationship helped to usher in the age of the supermodel. This is only one example of her influence on fashion.

Passing through the galleries, a cinematic sensation takes hold. A curator assisted von Unwerth in the search through her archive, for images that would accent the show. In the process, the photographer rediscovered many she’d forgotten. On the walls, they collide with force—some illicit a quick reaction, others provoke a double-take. At the end, one understands that von Unwerth will continue to influence photography and the overlap between fine art and commercial work.

Devotion! 30 Years of Photographing Women runs now through 29 March. It occupies one of three exhibition floor spaces in Fotografiska New York. The six-floor, 45,000-square-foot renovation features a ground-floor cafe and bookstore; a Roman and Williams-designed restaurant and bar, named Verōnika, helmed by Stephen Starr; and a top-floor event space with vaulted ceilings and skylights.

Images courtesy of Fotografiska, hero image of Naomi Campbell and Kate Moss for Vogue US 1996 © Ellen von Unwerth