Chris von Wangenheim – The Real Deal

Chris von Wangenheim – Modern Fashion?

The whole “in your face”, hard shadow direct flash, with overt sexual innuendos,… red-eye and all. I bet you think you know the origin and who first made it popular in editorials? Well, think again. Let’s go back a bit to the 1970s. The time of a burgeoning porn industry and it’s chukka-boom cheese ball soundtracks. The era of Chris von Wangenheim.

 

Chris von Wangenheim
© Chris von Wangenheim

 

Chris von Wangenheim – An Unsung Innovator

Von Wangenheim was born in 1942 in Germany. His father was a  German officer in WWII. He died in a Soviet gulag in the 1950s as a POW. The young Chris, who never really knew his father, was brought up by his mother and sister. His interest in photography began with a kind male neighbor who was a photographer, and showed him a few things which piqued his interest during this fatherless period.

 

Chris von Wangenheim
© Chris von Wangenheim

 

He studied architecture for a while, but lost interest. So he decided instead to take up photography. Something he enjoyed immensely. Feeling stifled in Germany, he moved to New York in 1965. He worked as a photographer’s assistant for David Thorpe and James Moore until 1967.  But within 2 years, he opened his own studio.  From connections he made assisting, it was only a year until he was doing Harper’s Bazaar. By 1972, he was doing Vogue, Esquire, Playboy, Interview, and Viva magazines. Not to mention it wasn’t long before Christian Dior, Calvin Klein, and Revlon came calling. Chris loved New York, and New York loved him.

 

Chris von Wangenheim
© Chris von Wangenheim

 

Groundbreaking Approach Pays Off

Chris von Wangenheim was nothing short of groundbreaking in his approach to fashion. His shoot from the hip style solidified in 1968 and he continued with that style until his death in 1981. He was actually on par with Guy Bourdin and Helmut Newton at the time. It was years after his death that they finally released a book on some of his most memorable work. His aesthetic coincided flawlessly with Andy Warhol, the Pop movement in art  and the violence in the films of the time, (Dirty Harry, Taxi Driver, Dirty Mary and Crazy Larry, etc,).  The growing porn industry lifestyle, (sex, drugs and rock n’ roll), was also an inspiration.  So why not incorporate that gritty realism, sex and violence into fashion? Made sense to him.

 

Chris von Wangenheim
© Chris von Wangenheim

 

I’m sure there would have been much more, and he would have reached the output and recognition level of a Helmut Newton, but Chris Von Wangenheim was killed in an auto crash in 1981. What makes it extra sad is that he was vacationing on the beautiful Caribbean island of Saint Martin at the time. However, his style seems to have been quietly adopted by a few, and will therefore go on, despite the industry loss. Nikon F2

 

 

Chris von Wangenheim

 

 

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