Do Not Disturb

“ROOM # 100” with Lindsey at the Madonna Inn, 2012 by Ellen Von Unwerth. Image courtesy of Ellen von Unwerth Studio. Interview by Steff Yotka for

Ellen von Unwerth’s work conjures images of sexy, alluring, and iconic women, and her new series “Do Not Disturb,” which runs through August 31st at the Michael Hoppen Gallery in London, is a testament to her ability to create and display the power in all types of femininity. Shot in Los Angeles’ The Madonna Inn, the series portrays a cast of women, from sweet to sultry, in von Unwerth’s signature provocative style. On the occasion of this new series, we spoke to von Unwerth about her inspirations, her muses, and how she translates her vision.

MDC: What was your inspiration to start working on this series, “Do Not Disturb?”
Ellen Von Unwerth:
My inspiration for “Do Not Disturb” came from the Madonna Inn hotel. I shot there a very long time ago with Stephanie Seymour, and it is a very inspiring and funny place to shoot. They have hundreds of different rooms, very American, and every room is unique! I am always intrigued with hotels and what is going on behind the closed doors. If you ever had been to the Madonna Inn, you know why! It is very unique and only in America would you find a place like this.

MDC: What types of women inspired the series?
Models, actresses, pin-up girls, burlesque dancers, girls with personality and a story to tell.

MDC: Which character created in the series was your favorite to shoot?
It’s very hard to say, all the characters have been so amazing. Really, we were shooting day and night! It may be the [girl in the] party scene. In the end, that was my favorite, it was so crazy and over the top, better than a real party!

MDC: How did you find and cast the models for the series?
We did a casting in Los Angeles. I always discover people at parties at night – there you can see their true personality, as they are off guard and full of life.

MDC: Much of your work, commercial and personal, revolves around the theme of powerful and sexy women. How are the characters in “Do Not Disturb” unique from the strong female characters you’ve created in your other work?
If you look at the images in this series, you find all kinds of women in there. I wanted everyone to tell a different story and even if sometimes they look lost or lonely, they always have power to control their lives and make the best out of it.

MDC: Is there a difference in your process between your personal, fine art projects and your editorial and commercial projects?
There is a difference in the sense of creative freedom from what you have when you work on personal projects. It is me who chooses the girls, the stylist, the hair, the make-up, the location and what I want to do. This is very free and independent and this is what I love.

MDC: How do you go about conceptualizing and creating the scenes for each photo?
The concept is in my vision, the girl in front of the camera gets the feeling of it with the hair and make-up, the clothes and of course my mood. This is my process on personal projects, [where] the storyboard is not visible for anyone. It is more a feeling and an atmosphere that is happening!

MDC: On a side note, you first shot Claudia Schiffer for Guess Jeans in 1989 which jumpstarted both of your careers, and recently reunited with her to shoot the 30th Anniversary Guess Jeans campaign. What was the experience like to work together with Claudia for Guess again?
Claudia is just an amazing model. I have shot her a lot during the last 20 years, and every time we have great fun and I discover something new in her. She is a real icon and I am happy that we have had such a long journey together for various projects! She is that one in a million girl!


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