Helmut Newton Photography
(1920-2004, Australian of German birth)
Helmut Newton photography influenced fashion itself although this was not the limit of his contribution to art.
Newton was born in Berlin in 1920 to affluent Jewish parents and spent his formative years in a Germany which was a pressure cooker about to burst not only with experimentation in the arts, but with extremes of culture. Helmut Newton was born at the right time and into the right social class: ripe not only for new philosophies such as psychoanalysis, but for entertainment, much of which was public burlesque.
While waiting for Hitler, the affluent avant-garde engaged with cabaret as stage performance and magazines for all tastes flourished. Women slicked back their hair and cross-dressed in gestures of ambivalence. The ideal Teutonic woman was not the skinny flapper that Americans had come to know: she was tall, strong, and muscular. All of these images of women recurred in the fashion pictures of Helmut Newton photography. He would later reminisce, "Many of my fashion photographs have been taken in places that remind me of my childhood."
Helmut Newton's statuesque and Amazonic women began to appear in French Vogue and other publications in the early '70's.
Newton had become the darling of high fashion, and photographed couture for Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, and Valentino, to name a few
and had begun to redfine fashion.
Yet just as 1970's feminism was peaking, Helmut Newton published his famous photograph of the woman with a saddle on her back. Is she
servile or being served? Film noire lighting takes us back to the movies and has us ask "what are we not seeing?" He knew how to incite.
"This was shot in a beautiful Paris hotel for a men's magazine called Adam that Vogue
published at the time. Well, I've always considered Hermes to be the world's
greatest ... shop with its whips, saddles, spurs. We spent an afternoon there,
selecting all kinds of things from the cases, went back to the hotel room, and
I had one girl ride the other. In a particular photo one girl has a whip
clenched between her teeth. She looked great. But I think Mr. Hermes had a
fit when he saw the photos. Actually a lot of advertisers have fits when they
see what I do with their products. (Kaplan, Michael. Graphis interview: Helmut Newton. Sep/Oct 2002)
With a boundless imagination, Newton photographed healthy-bodied women in herds like animals; or in pairs that resembled twins
or doubles. Sometimes women served as adornment. Sometimes their skin was adorned in prostheses or body braces. Men played servants,
pedestrians, or potential victims. He created cheapness within luxury.
His photographs engaged the viewer in drama and ambiguity. "There are always doorways
in my pictures... a longing to see." A fan of the pulps, he loved the unsavory suggestion of a dead woman next to a car. Every picture told a
story, and it was up to the viewer to determine the befores and afters, and what was to the left or right of the action, beyond the boundaries
of the photograph. Were the women being dominated or were they dominating and manipulative?
Green Room Murder
Newton adored the night as backdrop for his film noire. Actually color-blind, he called for strong color in the natural light of
day: "I like the colors to be strong. I tell my printer that I want the photograph to look like a postcard; the sky's got to be blue,
the grass has got to be green."
Helmut Newton photographed the well-known from Mick Jagger to Margaret Thatcher, the latter especially exciting for him in that she
was the very essence of the über woman. He became a celebrity himself but worked as a photographer until the day he died
after a fatal car crash in Los Angeles in 2004 at the age of 84. Newspapers and magazines worldwide marked the loss and extolled
his virtues - one of the most influential of fashion photographers of the century had died.
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