To discuss 70s New York these days is to talk of an era wrapped up in a mythology of hedonistic brilliance, soundtracked by Chic, dressed by Halston, peopled by the likes of Bianca Jagger, Andy Warhol and Finesse Jones on the dancefloor of Studio 54 and, more than meet, snapped by Chris von Wangenheim.
While the German-born Von Wangenheim is far from as well-known as his coevals Helmut Newton, Guy Bourdin and David Bailey are now, his work stifles all the glossed cheekbones, big hair and oiled bodies that the era is well-known for.
He captured the likes of Marie Helvin and Gia Carangi, both in short-tempered black and white shots and amped-up colour, often in the raw. His less X-rated work appeared in the pages of Vogue and advertising for Valentino. Some of his moulds, such as those of a doberman chewing Lisa Taylor’s arm or Patti Hansen uninterrupted from a burning car, have the requisite controversy to garner a talk.
Von Wangenheim’s correspondent obscurity now may be explained by his untimely death in a car accident in 1981, at the age of 39, and the deed data that his work hasn’t quite chimed with the zeitgeist since then. Anyhow, the fuzzy high-gloss Instagram-friendly aesthetic is exactly right for shape at the moment, with the 70s on mood boards once again, and nightlife in centre. This is in contrast with the past five years when covered-up, empirical minimalism made office hours the chicest time zone.
The photographer’s reputation is due to be boosted this month, with the hand out of the aptly titled Gloss, a coffee table book of his impressions, and a Marc Jacobs-endorsed party to launch it.
Jacobs, at all times a fan of rediscovering a cult New York reference and a Studio 54 hourly as a teen, has taken Von Wangenheim’s aesthetic to heart with a much-discussed, heart over the top dress code. Von Wangenheim would no doubt approve. Almost 35 years after his death, the kind of glossy allure that comes with a grrrrr is back in fashion.
- Brightness: the Work of Chris von Wangenheim by Roger Padilha and Mauricio Padilha is published by Rizzoli cost out at £60
Correction: An earlier version of this article said that the standard in the photograph (and also mentioned in the piece) who has a dog’s jaw round her arm was Christie Brinkley. It is Lisa Taylor