Bettina von Zwehl has built an international reputation for her subtle and unnerving photographic portraits. Her concise series of images are highly controlled both in terms of their minimalist aesthetic and the exacting conditions she imposes on her subjects. Von Zwehl photographs them as they wake from deep sleep, hold their breath, recover from physical exertion, are drenched in rain or listen intently to music in a darkened room; orchestrating a climate in which the sitters relinquish control of the way they are represented. The portraits reveal not the conscious projection of an identity but a space between the subject’s private and thoughtful world and their public appearance.
With their pared-down backgrounds and balanced compositions, von Zwehl’s portraits have the texture and poise of Renaissance paintings. Their stillness is arresting and demands the kind of attention and absorbtion from the viewer that we see depicted. We are directed to the slightest of details: blemishes on the skin, wrinkles, stray hairs, raised color in the cheeks, a striking variety of profiles.