She divides her time between Paris, New York, Vienna and southern Burgenland in Austria. And ranks among the most famous (fashion) photographers of our time: Elfie Semotan. Now, for her 75th birthday, she has written her autobiography, in which she tells us about her exciting life as an artist and how it all began in Wels, Austria.
Which is where Semotan was born and where she enjoyed a rural, wild and unbridled childhood, which she still draws on and which still influences her today, as she said in an interview with the Süddeutsche Zeitung Magazin. After attending fashion school, she moved to Paris where she worked as a model: her encounters with celebrities like Madame Grès and Lee Radziwill undoubtedly made an impression. Shortly afterwards she changed sides to work behind the camera instead.
Border crossingOver the course of her career, Semotan has taken photos of the great stars of the art world from Louise Bourgeois to Marina Abramovic as well as actors like Brad Pitt and Marion Cotillard. Her portraits of the exceptional Austrian designer Helmut Lang – even now one of her close friends – are undoubtedly among the best photos of the camera-shy artist that have ever been shot. You are bound to have seen her often-unconventional pictures in one of the many prestigious magazines she has worked for, from Vogue to Harper’s Bazaar. In her commercial work, she crossed the border between art and fashion photography, which is why her photos’ visual language is timeless. She was a pioneer who took her chosen medium far beyond the mere depiction of clothing on bodies – and that in an age when the fashion, lifestyle and art industries were largely distinct entities. She antagonized feminists with her “Trau dich doch” (“Be daring”) triptych for the Austrian underwear brand Palmers in the ’70s, which she designed in the style of ’50s pin-ups, and for Römerquelle mineral water she invented the famous three-figure poster campaign in the ’80s, in which she told stories that probably stimulated the senses of more than just mineral water drinkers.
Up close and personal with famous artistsIn her autobiography she not only opens a window onto her own life, but also reveals details about three famous artists. The artist Kurt Kocherscheidt, her first husband and father of her two sons, and the enfant terrible of the art world, Martin Kippenberger, with whom she enjoyed an amour fou, a short and intensive marriage that would end suddenly with Kippenberger’s early death. And of course Helmut Lang, whose career she witnessed up-close from its very beginning – even as a model on his catwalks.
Elfie Semotan Eine andere Art von Schönheit. Brandstätter Verlag In German Hardcover, 240 pages, 192 illustrations, €35.