Elfie Semotan, Photographer

How does one picture somebody? Joerg Burger´s film portrait of Elfie Semotan begins during fall in the south of Austria´s province Burgenland. An old wine cellar has been converted to accommodate the archive of the protagonist. Photographs are being sorted in preparation for an exhibition, including prints of Louise Bourgeois, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, Willem Dafoe, Maria Lassnig and Udo Kier – portraits seen now if not later in the film. It is as if Elfie Semotan is only incidentally identified as a fashion, advertising and portrait photographer of international renown since the 1970s.

The filmmaker and cinematographer Burger is himself an art photographer and has often concerned himself cinematically with visual artists. As the title suggests Elfie Semotan, Photographer is a work portrait. The film accompanies the woman with a camera at work in her archive, her studio, and outdoors in broad daylight. The viewer sees her shooting photographs, how she concentrates with her team and quietly captures models and fashion in a manner informed by icons of photo history including Irving Penn, Robert Frank, and Diane Arbus among others. But we also see how she solitarily crouches on the side of the road in Texan nowhere land to photograph the desert countryside just for herself, "just for fun".

Elfie Semotan, Photographer is also a beautiful tribute to aging and a documentation of successful collaborations between model and photographer. This comes into play when Semotan is seen using her small format camera and only daylight to photograph feminist New York painter Joan Semmel (b. 1932) in front of her large scale nude self-portraits; and when she is captured shooting the nuanced facial expressions and body language of the actress Erni Mangold (b. 1927) in a small portrait series; and then again in the final scene, when the former model Semotan places herself in front of the camera – with the remote control in her own hand. (Isabella Reicher)

Translation: Eve Heller

Orig. Title
Elfie Semotan, Photographer
78 min
Joerg Burger
Orig. Language
German, English
Joerg Burger
Joerg Burger
Dieter Pichler
Nora Czamler
Navigator Film
Executive Producer
Johannes Holzhausen, Constantin Wulff, Johannes Rosenberger
Supported by
ORF Film/Fernseh-Abkommen, Innovative Film Austria, Land Niederösterreich, Land Oberösterreich
Available Formats
DCP 2K flat
Aspect Ratio
Sound Format
Dolby 5.1.
Frame Rate
25 fps
Color Format
Digital File (prores, h264) (Distribution Copy)
Festivals (Selection)
Linz - Crossing Europe Film Festival
Graz - Diagonale, Festival des österreichischen Films