Untitled, Inspired by a photography showing Rosa Parks, Vienna, 2018, From the series Americana. © Elfie Semotan. Courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

“Today people listen to me because I have something to say. Before, people listened to me because they liked looking at me.”

These are the words of Elfie Semotan, one of today’s most prominent photographers who has been revolutionising fashion and advertising photography through her work since the 1960s. She has mastered the art of storytelling through imagery like no other. Her portraits of prominent personalities from the cultural scene, as well as her collaboration and friendship with Helmut Lang, have made her world-famous.

Elfie began her career as a model in Paris. Her partner at the time, the Canadian photographer and filmmaker John Cook, introduced her to photography in the late 1960s and awakened her passion for working behind the camera. Above all, she appropriated the art of telling stories through photographs: pictures that look like film stills, compositions of images and people, which always tells a story that goes beyond what appears on the surface.

Her advertising photos and her portraits of celebrities from the fields of art, film, and theatre—such as Louise Bourgeois, Willem Dafoe, Elfriede Jelinek, Milla Jovovich, Maria Lassnig, Martin Kippenberger, Udo Kier, Jonathan Meese, and Daniel Richter—and last, but not least, her exclusive collaboration and friendship with Helmut Lang have made the photographer famous around the world.

While the fashion designer’s minimalist design influenced international fashion, Elfie Semotan’s revealing advertising and fashion photography for Helmut Lang, as well as for international magazines such as Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, Interview, The New Yorker, and Vogue created a new photographic aesthetic. Like her German contemporaries Barbara Klemm, Herlinde Koelbl, and Sibylle Bergemann, the Austrian photographer used open space in her photographs; at the same time, she conquered the medium (long exclusively the territory of men, like most of the artistic disciplines) for herself and asserted her own feminine perspective.

Now you can view her work in a retrospective, Contradiction, at C/O Berlin from 7 June until 7 September 2019. It is the first extensive show outside of Austria to honour Semotan’s work. Accompanying the exhibition is the launch of a new book: Elfie Semotan’s Contraction is published by Hatje Cantz.

Untitled, Vienna, 1997, From the series Advertisement for Wittmann Möbel, inspired by Lucian Freud. © Elfie Semotan

Untitled, Vienna, 1997, From the series Advertisement for Wittmann Möbel, inspired by Lucian Freud. © Elfie Semotan

Martin Kippenberger, Frieda for each VIII, Venice, 1996. © Elfie Semotan . Courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

Martin Kippenberger, Frieda for each VIII, Venice, 1996. © Elfie Semotan . Courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

Untitled, Inspired by a photography by Diane Arbus, Vienna, 2018, From the series Americana. © Elfie Semotan . Courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

Untitled, Inspired by a photography by Diane Arbus, Vienna, 2018, From the series Americana. © Elfie Semotan . Courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

Advertisement for Helmut Lang, New York, 2000 © Elfie Semotan

Advertisement for Helmut Lang, New York, 2000 © Elfie Semotan

Maria Lassnig, Vienna, 2000. © Elfie Semotan. Courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

Maria Lassnig, Vienna, 2000. © Elfie Semotan. Courtesy Galerie Gisela Capitain, Cologne

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Author:

Katy Cowan

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