An industry icon as honorary patron: PHOTOPIA Hamburg joins hands with fashion photographer Ellen von Unwerth

"I want to grasp and preserve a small piece of life in my photos" (Ellen von Unwerth)

She is one of the most illustrious personalities of the international fashion scene, at home in the world’s fashion centres: Ellen von Unwerth. The renowned photographer who grew up in the German Alpine region has agreed to be honorary patron of PHOTOPIA Hamburg for the inaugural event from 23 to 26 September.

Ellen von Unwerth was once a top model herself before she swapped the catwalk for the camera. Her work has been published by famous magazines such as Vogue or Vanity Fair. She worked with megastars like Madonna, Kate Moss and Kim Kardashian, and she discovered young talents such as a 17 year-old Claudia Schiffer. She is currently guesting on the jury panel of Heidi Klum’s ”Germany´s Next Top Model” for the 16th season. All this highlights how multitalented she is. Ellen von Unwerth also publishes her own fashion magazine, directs music videos and has been featured in numerous exhibitions around the world. Most recently, she presented her photographs in Stockholm in 2019, in New York in 2020 and this year in Tallin. In 2002 her work was showcased in Hamburg’s Deichtorhallen.

PHOTOPIA Hamburg: Future Prospects

The new urban festival celebrating the world of imaging will run in parallel with the Reeperbahn Festival, using not only the Hamburg trade fair complex but also various other sites across the city as venues. At the “PHOTOPIA Summit”, newcomers to the scene will join global players for a fresh look at the future of an industry catering to millions of photo enthusiasts around the world. What is more, PHOTOPIA Hamburg’s online label “PHOTOPIA 365” interlinks the active photographic community year-round.

Bernd Aufderheide, President and CEO of Hamburg Messe und Congress GmbH, believes the well-known fashion photographer is the ideal choice for the event patronage: “We are very proud and couldn’t imagine a better honorary patron than Ellen von Unwerth. She is an impressive personality whose work has lent fresh impetus to fashion photography again and again, inspiring many. Her creativity will be an additional driving force at PHOTOPIA Hamburg.”

In our interview event patron Ellen von Unwerth tells us why she supports the PHOTOPIA Hamburg Festival, what social media mean for her work, and why she feels especially drawn to Africa. Furthermore, the in Frankfurt-born fashion photographer, who today lives in Paris and New York, explains from where she draws her inspiration.

Mrs. von Unwerth, you have accepted the honorary patronage for PHOTOPIA Hamburg. What attracts you to this event?

Von Unwerth: First of all, I felt really honoured by the offer. Photography is an important part of my life, and I think it is great that this new festival takes place in Hamburg. So I didn’t have to think twice and gave my consent to Curator Christian Popkes on the spot. The city has so many fantastic locations. It offers outstanding opportunities to take photography out of the galleries and stage it in the streets to present it to a wider audience. I am sure this will be a captivating experience.

PHOTOPIA Hamburg is a festival, something you are more than familiar with. What are you especially looking forward to?

Von Unwerth: I hope it will be colourful, noisy and spectacular! There are many excellent ideas for photo exhibits, such as photo containers that will be set up around the city featuring largerthan- life pictures by brilliant photographers. I must say I am very much looking forward to seeing these, and to meeting many fascinating people. I am also very fond of combinations of photography with music – and the Reeperbahn Festival happening in parallel will be a perfect fit, of course. I also hope some of the exhibitions will be dedicated to my favourite photographic theme, women.

What was the last festival you attended?

Von Unwerth: When it was still possible without any restrictions, I visited photo festivals in Paris and Miami. I also have vivid memories of the 2017 Oberstdorf Photo Summit. I had a show on the Nebelhorn peak, and we had to transport my photos up the mountain in a helicopter through a snow storm. One of the pictures was actually blown away. This exhibition was special to me for a personal reason: Oberstdorf is where I took my final grammar school exams as a young girl.

The motto of PHOTOPIA Hamburg is #shareyourvision. Do you have a vision that guides you?

Von Unwerth: It was really by pure chance that I took up photography. During a shooting in Kenya, a friend once simply handed me his camera. I seized the opportunity to take a few shots of some of my model friends. We all had lots of fun taking these spontaneous snapshots. Spontaneity, motion and the blurred contours they create still fascinate me today. Of course I learned a lot over the years, tried new techniques, and found my own style – there is always a bit of frivolousness, sensuality and a major portion of humour in my photos. But what drives me hasn’t changed over time: I want to grasp and preserve a small piece of life in my photos.

PHOTOPIA Hamburg makes a point of specifically addressing the young smartphone generation. What kinds of pictures do you personally take with your smartphone, and what are motifs you don’t want to miss?

Von Unwerth: I use my smartphone quite often, especially in everyday situations. It is almost like a diary. Smartphone cameras are technically very advanced nowadays, and once I even included a photo in an exhibition that I had taken with my smartphone. Of course I use a real camera for professional photos. And I always take my team along. The lighting has to be right, the background, the entire staging. By the way, I work with both, digital and conventional analogue photography. After all, Picasso not only painted with brushes but also with chalk or pencils.

You are very active on social media and have more than 500,000 followers on Instagram. How important are social media to you as a photographer?

Von Unwerth: To me, Instagram is a pleasant, uncomplicated way of communicating that allows me to reach many people. That is very important to me, especially in view of the fact that the print media have been very badly affected by the coronavirus pandemic. I myself publish a magazine and the virus has been a major handicap to this endeavour as it has been to other publications. Instagram gives me a voice and allows me to discuss topics that are important to me, and to present people I feel enthusiastic about.

Right now the app Clubhouse is the talk of the town. What is your opinion?

Von Unwerth: I don't feel very much attracted to that, to be quite honest. I don't Twitter either, because I have the impression that it would take too much of my time. I'd rather spend my time working or being with my family or friends.

Who or what are your main inspirations?

Von Unwerth: Primarily people, especially artists, such as acrobats, musicians or actors. Fashion designers, as well. Many of them present their new collections year after year, frequently conveying political messages at the same time. Right now all that is very difficult due to the coronavirus pandemic, of course. The fine arts have been affected by the pandemic quite severely. Personal meetings are almost impossible, a fact that is especially regrettable for me as a photographer because there are much fewer shooting opportunities. But there is a positive side to everything: I now have more time for other things, time to edit older photos; I am also working on a book. It will be a retrospective of the 90s, the period of super models like Nadja Auermann and Claudia Schiffer. In addition, I was a jury member on the show "Germany´s Next Top Model” following an invitation by Heidi Klum. I was actually a bit nervous sitting in front of the camera again, but it was also a great experience to work together with Heidi.

Is there anything you have never shot but would love to?

Von Unwerth: I would love to go back to Africa. I love Africa, and that is where my career as a photographer basically started. That's why it would be a dream come true to be able to spend some time in an African village to witness people's everyday life and produce a photo-reportage. Then there is Mars, of course. That would be the next location!

About PHOTOPIA Hamburg
The first-ever PHOTOPIA Hamburg will take place at the Hamburg exhibition complex and throughout the city from 23 to 26 September 2021. It will be an annual event. The innovative live event hosted by Hamburg Messe und Congress is a triad composed of the PHOTOPIA Summit, the PHOTOPIA City and PHOTOPIA 365, a permanent online platform for sharing views, content and information. It will attract enterprises from the entire world of imaging, showcasing products and services related to photo and video recording, editing and processing, storage, displaying and sharing, including software and technology companies and many start-ups. It is open to all photography and filming professionals and enthusiasts. Apart from dealers, professional photographers, semi-professionals, hobby photographers and photography enthusiasts, the target audience expressly includes smartphone owners who like to use their devices for recording, editing and sharing photos and videos.