"Sonate", Paris, Ellen von Unwerth (1990)

PARIS — A crowd of locals flocked to the opening party of the just-refurbished La Hune bookstore on Wednesday night, which recently reopened to the public after being partially destroyed by a fire a year ago.

Originally opened in 1944 at a different address, the original La Hune was a Paris institution, drawing a mix of writers, artists and designers with its carefully curated selection of art books.

Now run by Yellow Korner and specializing in photography, with an exhibition space on the first floor, the sleek new space kicked off its rebirth with an exhibition by German photographer Ellen von Unwerth, who happened to be the first female photographer to show her work at La Hune.

“I used to browse the bookstore all the time, it’s a very mythical place,” von Unwerth said. “I came to see a lot of great photographers here, like Oliviero Toscani and Nobuyoshi Araki. I’m even more honored to be here after learning that I’m the first woman.”

Named “Guilty Pleasures,” the exhibition consists of 25 pictures taken by von Unwerth throughout her 30-year career as a photographer. Decadent scenes from her “The Story of Olga” book mix with black-and-white portraits, such as a sultry close-up shot of actress Penélope Cruz smoking a cigar.

“I wanted to capture the forbidden pleasures that happen behind closed doors,” said the photographer, gesturing to the lingerie-clad models she captured in playful poses. “It’s a little bit voyeuristic, but as I am also part of the scene, the women feel like we are playing together and not actually working.”

Having been a model herself, von Unwerth is intent on giving models the freedom to be themselves.

“The 10 years I spent as a model don’t represent the happiest period of my life, because I didn’t feel like I could express myself,” she confided.

“So when I started to take pictures I actually encouraged my models to live in front of the camera. I don’t want any ‘posey-posing,’ I want to catch a piece of life. l love to capture moments when they are actually having fun,” she explained.

The photographer embraces the current interest in the female gaze in photography, praising the new generation of female photographers that are resetting the standards.

“The female gaze has more depth,” von Unwerth said. “It goes a little more into the person, rather than focusing on just the outside, just the beauty. There is more understanding.”

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