His name may be for­got­ten, but his im­ages re­main iconic. Schön! re­dis­cov­ers the man who changed the face of fash­ion pho­tog­ra­phy.

Schon! - - Glamour & Grit -

“You see a woman in a ball gown with a gun and you say, ‘Oh, that’s fash­ion,’ but that started with Chris von Wan­gen­heim. Not too many peo­ple know who he was, which is why we did this book,” says Roger Padilha. Roger and his brother, Mauri­cio Padilha, are co-au­thors of GLOSS, the first mono­graph on Chris von Wan­gen­heim’s pho­tog­ra­phy, and co-own­ers of MAO, a fash­ion PR agency in New York City. Von Wan­gen­heim “took what was hap­pen­ing in cul­ture and re-imag­ined vi­o­lent sce­nar­ios with high fash­ion,” ex­plains Roger. Be­fore that, fash­ion pho­tog­ra­phy was meant to fas­ci­nate or to in­spire awe but not to shock peo­ple.

Von Wan­gen­heim moved from Ger­many to New York in 1965, at a time when civil un­rest was fer­vent. Ri­ots erupted as the re­sult of a po­lice shoot­ing in Har­lem and con­tin­ued to break out “at in­ter­vals reg­u­lar enough to make na­tives and tourists alike pic­ture the night­time streets as hos­tile jun­gles, teem­ing with preda­tors and re­gress­ing into bar­barism,” as de­scribed by Mark Cald­well in New York Night. Crime reached un­prece­dented heights by the late 1970s; mur­ders and felo­nious as­saults more than dou­bled in com­par­i­son to the pre­vi­ous decade. Von Wan­gen­heim would pho­to­graph at night with a ring light to sim­u­late the flash­lights and siren lights of a crime-scene. One of his iconic im­ages fea­tures Patti Hansen pos­ing se­duc­tively in front of a burn­ing car in New York. “You don’t know if she’s a vic­tim or if she did some­thing,” says Mauri­cio. This pho­to­graph inspired scenes in the 1978 film, Eyes of Laura Mars.

The 1970s marked a peak in the sex­ual lib­er­a­tion move­ment that chal­lenged tra­di­tional codes of gen­der and sex­u­al­ity, in­clud­ing the nor­mal­i­sa­tion of con­tra­cep­tion, public nu­dity and pre­mar­i­tal sex. Pornog­ra­phy be­came main­stream; Deep Throat played in lo­cal movie the­aters across the United States. These changes in cul­ture en­cour­aged mag­a­zines to re­shape their for­mats to ap­peal to erotic de­sires. “There was a mar­riage of pornog­ra­phy and fash­ion that pushed the lim­its to see how much peo­ple would ac­cept,” says Roger. Fash­ion mag­a­zines like Oui and Viva be­gan to in­clude Play­boyesque cen­tre­folds, while Play­boy started cov­er­ing fash­ion.

In 1972, Diana Vree­land, vet­eran editor-in-chief of Amer­i­can Vogue, was fired. She ex­plained, sim­ply, that, “They wanted a dif­fer­ent mag­a­zine.” In the same year, Amer­i­can Vogue be­came von Wan­gen­heim’s pri­mary out­let. He also pho­tographed for the Ger­man, French and Ital­ian edi­tions, as well as for Esquire, Play­boy, In­ter­view and Viva mag­a­zines. One of von Wan­gen­heim’s favourite muses was the late su­per­model Gia Carangi, who did her first ma­jor fash­ion shoot with him. His no­to­ri­ous im­ages of her stand­ing naked be­hind a chain link fence were de­picted in the film, Gia. “Peo­ple know this photo be­cause they’ve seen An­gelina Jolie recre­ate it for the movie, but they’ve never [ac­tu­ally] seen it; it was never pub­lished,” says Mauri­cio. Not un­til now.

Von Wan­gen­heim is also well known for his ad­ver­tise­ments for Chris­tian Dior, Calvin Klein and Revlon. He was given un­prece­dented free­dom to make what­ever pic­tures he liked for Dior, which in­tro­duced its Your Dior cam­paign as an at­tempt to make the brand more ap­proach­able. Von Wan­gen­heim shot Lisa Tay­lor in di­a­monds, as a Dober­man pin­scher clenches its jaws around her wrist – an im­age that now adorns the cover of GLOSS. But while the im­ages ap­pear to be spon­ta­neous, Mauri­cio elu­ci­dates that von Wan­gen­heim “would strate­gi­cally plan ex­actly what he wanted to shoot be­fore any­body got there.”

Von Wan­gen­heim didn’t in­dulge much off set; he pre­ferred cre­ative con­ver­sa­tions about work with his friend and men­tor, Hel­mut New­ton. There was a play­ful com­pe­ti­tion be­tween the two and they would in­spire each other to go fur­ther. Roger and Mauri­cio, who fin­ish each other’s sen­tences, ex­plain, “Chris would do a photo of a woman be­ing pushed into a swimming pool, so it looks like she’s about to fall in. Then Hel­mut would do a pic­ture of some­one just about to hit the wa­ter. So then Chris would do another im­age, that would come out a cou­ple of months later in Vogue, of a woman com­pletely sub­merged [with] her feet stick­ing out.”

Von Wan­gen­heim died in a car crash in 1981, at the age of 39. At this time, fash­ion pho­tog­ra­phy was not con­sid­ered to be art, so it was not pre­served well. Ar­chives for top publi­ca­tions con­sisted of neg­a­tives sta­pled to mag­a­zine pages placed on shelves. Most be­came dam­aged over time. There­fore, only a dozen or so boxes of von Wan­gen­heim’s per­sonal work re­mained. Chris­tine, his only daugh­ter, brought them to the MAO show­room so Roger and Mauri­cio could com­pile the book. GLOSS fi­nally gives Chris von Wan­gen­heim’s for­merly ephemeral legacy its de­served per­ma­nence.

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