Chris von Wagenheim: 'The Violence is in the Culture'
Think b o l d. Fashion by Halston and soundtracked by The Velvet Underground. Partying at Studio 54 with the infamous Edie Sedgwick, Grace Jones, accompanied by Andy Warhol and, more then likely, snapped by Chris von Wangenheim. Famous for his sexually charged photographic work, Chris became an Emblem of the Deep Throat sexual revolution and the cultural shift towards Studio 54 decadence and smut obsession by documenting the provocative humour of the 1970’s.
Von Wangenheim moved from Berlin to New York in 1965 to pursue his career in photography and began by assisting fashion photographer James Moore on commissions for Harper’s Bazaar. This helped to establish his place in the world of high fashion and led him to shoot for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Interview and Playboy. Von Wangenheim pioneered an era in which tight-lipped, mainstream magazines began welcoming more unsettling and confrontational imagery.
Among his most controversial editorials was a spread that paired American sweetheart Christie Brinkley restraining 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. Women had always held a very sterile image in the media before Chris began revealing the concealed emotions that existed behind the scenes.
“The violence is in the culture, so why shouldn’t it be in our pictures?”
Said Von Wangenheim in a 1977 interview with Time magazine. During a buttoned-up period for the world of high fashion, he blasted the industry with glamour and excess.
Violence was second nature to Chris, who grew up as a witness to chaos. Born in East Germany at the peak of World War II, von Wangenheim was raised in a refined home. He was the product of colliding events that ultimately influenced his taste of raw sophistication and sadism. His father, Konrad Freiherr von Wangenheim, was an Olympic competitor who was terribly injured by his own racehorse. He later became an officer in the German Army, where he was captured by the Red Army and eventually committed suicide by hanging. Von Wangenheim enshrined his experiences and emotions from childhood, only to utilize them later on in life as the ammunition that would drive his photographic career.
His photographs were an archive of his history and finally an eerie foreshadow of his future, allowing viewers to relive his life through his editorial perspective. His own death was a narrative pulled right from one of his own photoshoots. A lifeless model hung out of the driver’s side of a car, reflecting the tragic car accident that took his life in 1981.
He was an imaginative and thought provoking individual who took drama right into the grave with him. His work will live on in the recently released monograph Gloss, continuing to inspire artists and creative minds alike. Chris von Wangenheim’s photographs draw attention to the lives beneath the gloss of the era. He was considered to be an avid and skillful photographer and has a remarkable array of visual documentation to prove it.