Helmut Newton

KLAUS BEHR (Born in 1941)

Helmut Newton behind  «They are coming», Berlin, c. 1985. 28 x 35,5 cm.

Helmut Newton is not only a world famous photographer, but also one whose art contributed to change the mere concept of fashion photography. His provocative signature shattered the common perceptions about women’s fashion, if not about women. But he is also a very controversial character, what makes him yet more interesting to be looked closer.

Born in 1920 in Berlin, he grew up in a privileged family. He attended the American School of Berlin, but was expelled when his fascination with photography, sparked by a camera bought when he was 12, overshadowed his interest in class.  He started his apprenticeship with Elsie Simon, known as Yva, a famous nude –portraitist photographer, until he was forced to flee after the start of Hitler’s pogroms in 1938.

His parents managed to secure him passage on a ship to China, but he stopped off in Singapore, where he got a job at the Straits Times newspaper. He later joined Australia, the Australian army and became an Autralian citizen. In 1948 he married actress June Brunell, who would remain his partner for more than 50 years until his death.

Neustaedter changed his name to Newton, opened a small photo studio in Melbourne, and soon began contributing fashion photos to French Vogue in 1961, a magazine that he made his own for a quarter century. Over the years, Newton also contributed to magazines such as Playboy, Queen, Nova, Marie-Claire, Elle, and the American, Italian and German editions of Vogue — his stark and provocative style setting a new industry standard.

His studies of nude women became his signature and the self-obsessed and often distant poses of the models frequent caused polemic in the art-world. He won the sobriquets “King of Kink” and Prince of Porn” in the 1970s after the publication of his erotic photo book “White Women.” Robert Sobieszek, photo dept. chief at the L.A. County Museum of Art, noted to the L.A. Times: “His work was never dirty … but he stretched the boundaries of what a fashion magazine looked like.”

Helmut Newton Newton defied convention, but his talent was awarded by the highest distinctions: In 1990 he won the French “Grand prix national de la photographie.” In 1992 he is made “Officier des Arts, Lettres et Sciences” in Monaco. In1996: he receive a commendation to “Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et Lettres” by the French Ministry of Culture. In 2000, there was a large retrospective for his 80th birthday in the New National Gallery (Neue Nationalgalerie) in Berlin that travels to London, New York, Tokyo, Moscow and Prague, among others.

Helmut Newton died in Los Angeles driving is Cadillac, in 2006.

HELMUT NEWTON (1920-2004)
Big Nude III: Henrietta, 1980.

His row of oversize prints of naked models, “Big Nudes,” has perhaps become his best-know work. This one is my favourite. Newton is often criticized for the image he gave of women, as fashion/sexual objects. But in my opinion, this picture is the entire contrary. I fell in love with it the first time I saw it, and this is how I came to be interested in Newton’s work. The stance of the model is pure beauty, strength, and confidence: planted on her two legs, firm on her high heels, she stares at the photographer and seems to challenge him with her clenched hands, her bombed torso. She is absolutely naked, which should make her vulnerable. Though, she rather looks like she could kill bare hands any troublesome man. And you cannot escape her, because the foreground is totally absent and the eye has nothing else than her sculptural body to rest on. This is reinforced by the strong contrast and exposition and the black and white. The low angle, too, is powerful and was probably carefully chosen to get this low glance and general impression of heights.

They’re Coming!, 1981.

Once again this picture shows that Newton valued dominant femininity. The high-heeled shoes, the strong upshot, the light, neutral background against which the contours of the women stand out, all strengthen the impression of the threat, expressed in the title. The charm of the two photographs resides in their character as a diptych: only in terms of such a thesis and anti-thesis does the theme develop its full interest. Helmut Newton was without a doubt a witness of this time when the corset (the one of slimness) was reinvented and was now being recommended once more to women. To me, these photographs also say: “if you want these clothe to look nice on you, you must be like that under them.”

HELMUT NEWTON, for Vogue, 1967.

This photography is part of a serie realized for Vogue in 1967 with model Willy Van Rooy. It is highly entertaining and theatrical, and in so far representative of Helmut Newton’s treatment of fashion images. It is impressive with this idea of movement, and because of the risks the model might have taken to get this result. Although, it looks like both the model and the plane are about to end their race on the photographer. Whatever the issue was, I think there is a lot of humour and irony of this picture, contributing to its charm.


Website of the History of Photography: http://www.all-art.org/history658_photography13-27.html

Also, an interesting point of view on Helmut Newton, on the blog of one of his model, Willy Van Rooy: http://willyvanrooy.com/modelling-in-paris-1/


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