Ahead of our main interview with Ellen von Unwerth in the upcoming TIME issue we sent Sigmund Oakeshott down to the Michael Hoppen Gallery to meet the lady herself and take a look at her new exhibition.
Dwarves, Dominatrices and dollshouse décor. Flayed sequins, champagne-sodden underwear and lost limelight. Welcome to the Hotel California, or rather the Madonna Inn, an impossibly kitsch, yet plausibly American motel on the road from LA to obscurity. Behind its 1950s pseudo-Swiss Alpine exterior it boasts set-designed rock waterfall urinals and individually themed interiors ranging from 'Irish Hills' to 'Jungle Rock.' It also provides the setting for Do Not Disturb', a voyeuristic expose of the private fantasies and broken dreams of Hollywood as imagined by Ellen von Unwerth in her latest photographic work.
Over-made-up and under-loved floozies maintain illusions of youth, flashing salacious smiles with braces-clad teeth or donning pink lolita wigs. A wine glass blurs out of focus in the foreground of one shot, as if held by the observer, perhaps a 'What the Casting Director saw' mis en scene, obscuring a gaudily upholstered room thrown into disarray by the lithe, deshabille girl writhing about inside it.
Much of the playful eroticism that characterises von Unwerth's photography, however, is absent here. The plus size whip-wielding dominatrix looks like she is working, not indulging herself. A fiercely attired, diamante handcuff-sporting masked Grace Jones-alike bearing her muscled torso looks not entirely willfully exploited. As Michael Hoppen said 'This is her strongest work. It's the perfect antidote to the Olympics.'
Full interview in 125 #20 - September 2012.
Do Not Disturb runs at the Michael Hoppen Gallery (3 Jubilee Place London SW3 3TD) until the end of August.
Photography - Ellen von Unwerth
Styling - Brett Bailey/ Todd Pearce
Casting - Anne-Marei Heinrich
Hair - John Ruggiero / Ryan Richman
Make - Dawn Broussard
Props - Din Moris
Photo Assistant - Christoph Lange
Digital - Jen Britton DV8
Production - Frankie and Stanley