Couples, couples – what do you think of that word? Husband and wife, presumably. What Ellen von Unwerth comes up with, she shows us in Couples. As Ingrid Sischy says in the foreword: “She does not use the camera to make judgments, but to establish relationships. It is therefore only logical that she is now doing a book about relationships – and that it is not just about conventional relationships . ”
Von Unwerth grouped 160 pages with photographs under this heading, most of which were created between 1994 and 1998, with a little more black and white photos than color. The photos usually go over a double page, which, despite the book format of around 15 x 21 cm, which is handy for a photo book, brings out every picture to its best advantage.
The relationships, the couples and pairings that Ellen von Unwerth captured here could hardly be more different: There are the studio recordings, with professional models, in an artificial environment, arranged positions and situations, such as the two garishly made-up Dolce and Gabbana Models who remove leftovers from each other’s teeth, or two pink-orange graces who let themselves fall into the artificial snow in a painted winter landscape. And there are the photos with famous protagonists like Christy Turlington, together with a man under a coat, “Courtney Love & Pervert”, Eartha Kitt in dangerous grip or Lauren Bacall with Marcello Mastroianni in Paris. Often in direct contrast to this, there are always pictures from foreign countries, with people from the street, snapshots that draw their charm precisely from their spontaneity and ingenuity: the two little girls with stuck out blue tongues from licking ice cream, father and son with turban in Jodhpur, a pair of geese, and again India, a mother looking straight into the camera while breastfeeding her child.
Ellen von Unwerth has obviously lost the desire for self-portrayal since she is no longer in front of the camera, but behind the camera, and only in one photo is she part of a couple: a mirror image shows her – but again only behind her camera. If you are looking for an approximation of the person of this fascinating photographer, two other couples are better suited: “My Angels” from 1990 shows a man’s hand with a tiny baby hand holding onto its little finger, and “At Home, NY 1996” – one Snapshot in which privacy, public, art, life, normality and beauty mix perfectly.
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