Launching this month the stylish Padilha brothers, Mauricio and Roger, focus their discerning gaze on the dark side of '70s fashion photography in GLOSS: The Work of Chris von Wangenheim, the first monograph of this provocative artist's work published by Rizzoli. Von Wangenheim died in a car accident in 1981, but in his relatively short career, he produced now-iconic imagery for every top fashion publication of the '70s, including Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Interview, and advertising campaigns for European fashion houses, including Christian Dior and Valentino.
As current bad-boy lensman Steven Klein points out in the book's foreword, von Wangenheim and his contemporaries, Helmut Newton and Guy Bourdin, became known as "the terrible three" not just for their photographs, but for their defiant artistic stances and Warhol-inspired insistence on upsetting the status quo. Von Wangenheim, in particular, produced glittering, aggressive scenarios (a girl brandishing a pistol or bloodied and limp, in a car riddled with bullets) that rattled the industry - until the late '60s, fashion photography had been a genteel club of polite people taking pretty pictures. These men took the opposite tack. As high fashion began catering to the masses, mirroring a growing culture of bland commercialism, von Wangenheim sensed that violence was the single most valid statement he could capture on film.
The great irony inherent in von Wangenheim's work - and something that makes it viscerally appealing, even today - is the juxtaposition of highly polished glamour and unsettling danger. (Case in point: the famous cover image of model Lisa Taylor, with her jewelled wrist caught in the jaws of a slavering Doberman.)
Von Wangenheim was a Prussian aristocrat by birth, and a strong-willed perfectionist who obsessed over every detail, from the girls he worked with - sleek, leggy beauties Regine Jaffry, Jeanette Christiansen, Donna Jordan, Anjelica Huston and Juli Foster - to the hair, makeup, clothes and even the nail color they wore.
Makeup artist Sandy Linter often worked with him, and even posed for him (pictures of her with another von Wangenheim favorite, the late Gia Carangi , are included in the book.)
"The coolest models worked with Chris," says Linter. "The violence was only to shake things up. I was talking to Patti Hansen about this recently, and she said he made a woman feel really beautiful."
And what about the infamous shots Linter did of Gia and the chain link fence? Says Linter: "Chris simply said, 'Will you do a personal shoot with me?' Then he left the makeup room and came back and said, 'With Gia?' and left again. He came back a moment later and said, 'Nude.' The rest of course, is history." Linter isn't exaggerating - a photo from that sitting launched Gia's career when it was published in Vogue in 1978.
"Chris' work was emblematic of the tumultuous '70s," says Roger Padilha, one of the book's co-authors (who, with his brother, also wrote Antonio Lopez: Fashion, Art, Sex and Disco. "There's a grit to the glamour that really shines through, and you could only achieve that by being a New York-based photographer. Von Wangenheim used fashion photography as a medium, but injected commentary on issues such as violence, sexuality, women's liberation, homosexuality, and voyeurism, all of which were hot topics during his era."
©GLOSS, by Roger Padilha and Mauricio Padilha, Rizzoli New York, 2015