Though you may have seen his photographs of Gia Carangi standing nude behind a chain-link fence or Christy Brinkley restraining a ferocious Doberman, Chris von Wangenheim is hardly a household name. Now with Gloss, the first monograph of his sexually charged work, the late photographer is finally getting the attention he deserves.
Regine Jaffry (von Wangenheim’s ex-wife) and Angeleen, 1975.
“The violence is in the culture, so why shouldn’t it be in our pictures?” probed fashion photographer Chris von Wangenheim in a 1977 interview with Time magazine. During a buttoned-up period for the world of high fashion, von Wangenheim blasted the industry with glamour and excess, sexuality and danger — a subversive style that re ected a cultural shift in 70s New York toward Studio 54 decadence and smut obsession. A player in the Deep Throat sexual revolution that lifted the underworld to a mainstream context, von Wangenheim became notorious. His in uence is felt in the sexually charged work of Steven Klein and Mert and Marcus.
Models running, Vogue Italia, 1971.
The photographer’s harrowing imagery is chronicled in Gloss, the first complete monograph of his work. Published by Rizzoli, the book features a foreword by Klein himself, who captured the late photographer’s mission in one line: “His modus operandi was to attack through beauty.”
Born in East Prussia, Germany, at the peak of World War II, von Wangenheim was raised by baronial parents, the collision of sophistication and sadism informing his taste as an adolescent. His father, Konrad Freiherr von Wangenheim, was an Olympic competitor, once nishing a race after being mangled by his own racehorse. He later became an of cer in the German Army, where he was captured by the Red Army and committed suicide by hanging. A witness to chaos, von Wangenheim locked these memories in an aesthetic arsenal, later loading his photography with allusions of death, aggression and nods to equestrian culture.
Regine Jaffry (von Wangenheim’s ex-wife) and Juli Foster, 1976
Von Wangenheim’s first major stateside break was assisting fashion photographer James Moore on commissions for Harper’s Bazaar. Notably commercial in his primitive work, it wasn’t until the photographer started shooting for Vogue Italia that his macabre-chic aesthetic emerged. Among his most controversial editorials was a spread that paired American sweetheart Christie Brinkley with a ferocious Doberman. One image shows the dog biting down on her ankle, another shows it ripping apart her one-of-a-kind Geoffrey Beene gown.
The desire to challenge high fashion norms aligned von Wangenheim with leading 70s photographers Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin, who also explored shocking subject matter. While Newton focused primarily on vicious women ready to wreak havoc and Bourdin on the aftermath of ambiguous crime scenes, von Wangenheim depicted live, unfolding action. Collectively, the trio pioneered an era in which tight-lipped, mainstream magazines began welcoming more unsettling, confrontational imagery.
One editorial eerily foreshadowed the photographer’s final demise. The spread pictured a lifeless model hanging out the driver’s side of a car, reflecting the tragic accident that took his life in 1981. It was an obsession with drama that launched his career and that bloody reality that ended it — a narrative pulled straight from one of von Wangenheim’s own photoshoots.
Words Justin Moran — Photography Chris von Wangenheim — Thanks to Rizzoli