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Ellen von Unwerth was born in Germany. She worked as a knife- thrower's assistant in the circus before embarking on a career as a fashion model for ten years.

She began her work as a photographer in 1986.  Von Unwerth's photographs appear in numerous publications around the world, including Interview, The New York Times Magazine, Vanity Fair, W, The Face, i-D, and Arena, and she regularly contributes to the American, Italian, German, Russian, French, and British editions of VOGUE.  In addition to her editorial work, she has shot international advertising campaigns for Guess? Jeans, Chanel, Versus, Miu Miu, Clinique, IBM, Adidas, Yves Saint Laurent, Wella, Estee Lauder, Bloomingdales, and Moet Chandon.

Von Unwerth has directed short films and commercials for renowned fashion designers Azzedine Alaia and Katherine Hammett, as well as music videos for Salt n' Pepa and Duran Duran.

Von Unwerth’s first book, Snaps,was released in 1995, followed by Wicked in 1998, Couples in 1999, Revenge in 2003, Fräulein in 2009, The Story of Olga in 2012, and Heimat in 2017.  Her photographs have been exhibited at galleries and museums around the world, including The Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A solo retrospective exhibition of Ellen von Unwerth’s work, titled Devotion, opened at the Fotografiska Museum in Stockholm in 2018.

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