Helmut Newton

 

Helmut Newton’s spectacular and often outrageous images have made him synonymous with the world of glamour in more ways than one. Sakshi Parikh delves into his extraordinary life.

Yves Saint Laurent, French Vogue, Rue Aubriot, Paris 1975. The architecture and receding street, along with the sexual ambiguity and classic appeal of the model, adds to the timelessness of the image. This look has been attempted by many photographers since. © Helmut Newton Estate / Maconochie Photography

Yves Saint Laurent, French Vogue, Rue Aubriot, Paris 1975. The architecture and receding street, along with the sexual ambiguity and classic appeal of the model, adds to the timelessness of the image. This look has been attempted by many photographers since. © Helmut Newton Estate / Maconochie Photography

The 1970s were very exciting times, especially for the young and restless in Europe. It was an era of liberalisation and the breaking of conventions. Pornography had gone mainstream. Fashion had begun to move in bold, new directions. In the midst of it all, Helmut Newton was already making waves with his pioneering, provocative fashion imagery and for pushing the boundaries by making erotic scenarios look chic.

X-Ray, Van Cleef & Arpels, French Vogue, 1994. Helmut wanted to see what was going on ‘under the flesh’. So he took some of his jewellery clad models to a radiologist. The jewels disappeared, leaving only the bone structure and metal settings. © Helmut Newton Estate / Maconochie Photography

X-Ray, Van Cleef & Arpels, French Vogue, 1994. Helmut wanted to see what was going on ‘under the flesh’. So he took some of his jewellery clad models to a radiologist. The jewels disappeared, leaving only the bone structure and metal settings. © Helmut Newton Estate / Maconochie Photography

His images, which bordered on the voyeuristic, frequently stunned both the fashion and publishing industries with its overtly raw sexual appeal and portrayal of elitist social taboos. Far from shying away, and despite losing subscribers, the leading fashion magazines all wanted him.

Accepting the Unacceptable

The women he photographed were bold, strong and aggressive, and he was not afraid to show that. They projected a mixture of distance and availability, displaying neither weakness nor doubt. Influenced by Brassai and Erich Salomon, Helmut was one of the initial photographers to show the beauty of uninhibited behaviour. With a career spanning nearly six decades, he photographed for several notable fashion journals, but largely for French Vogue.

Sie kommen, from the series Big Nudes, Paris 1981. The first of a twopart image, it depicts the models clothed. The second part shows them being in exactly the same position, but nude. © Helmut Newton Estate

Sie kommen, from the series Big Nudes, Paris 1981. The first of a two-part image, it depicts the models clothed. The second part shows them being in exactly the same position, but nude. © Helmut Newton Estate

Earlier, fashion was mainly about the clothes and how beautiful a woman can look in them. It was more about wearing what was on the runway, and striving for a perfect body to carry that. Through his audacious images, Helmut managed to alter the mindsets of people by showing them a rebellious and a powerful side of that era. Unlike his contemporaries, he broke the rules of photography by moving away from the four walls of a studio and shooting in varied locations, using minimal gear. “I find that the places that I know, that are very familiar to me become very mysterious and very interesting as I shoot around them.” He derived his ideas from real life experiences. “Every scene I make here, is all plucked from the reality and the harshness of everyday life,” he had said.

Catherine Deneuve, Esquire, Paris 1976. He was the only photographer she ever allowed into her apartment, and at the time, was horrified by the resulting shots— seductive, lingerie clad and cigarette clenched between her teeth. © Helmut Newton Estate / Maconochie Photography

Catherine Deneuve, Esquire, Paris 1976. He was the only photographer she ever allowed into her apartment, and at the time, was horrified by the resulting shots— seductive, lingerie-clad and cigarette clenched between her teeth. © Helmut Newton Estate / Maconochie Photography

Making Scandalous Photographs

Helmut believed in creating pictures that not only depicted the whims and fancies of the social elite, but also displayed a stark change in gender roles, identities and power structures. “When you looked at his nudes, the woman is not an object, she is a woman of power,” says Just Loomis, a friend and assistant of Helmut’s.

The Woman on Level 4, V. © Helmut Newton Estate

The Woman on Level 4, V. © Helmut Newton Estate

It was ironical that he always liked women who were strong and triumphant, with broad shoulders, and at the same time, he photographed them nude, exposing not just their body, but their soul. “I think I reminded him of the girls he met in his youth in Berlin-strong both physically and mentally. He projected his women as fearless and larger than life, just like him,” says Sylvia Gobbel, who was shot by Helmut for the cover of his book Big Nudes.

The Woman on Level 4, I Monte Carlo, 2000. Women in his pictures were aggressive, often fetish driven and captured in a realistic reportage style. © Helmut Newton Estate

The Woman on Level 4, I Monte Carlo, 2000. Women in his pictures were aggressive, often fetish driven and captured in a realistic reportage style. © Helmut Newton Estate

To have taboos and to get around them—that is interesting.

Seduce, Amuse and Entertain

Through his sadomasochistic images, he also shaped and crystalised the erotic fantasies of that time. There were women in handcuffs, ropes and chains including one also with a saddle on her back. He brought a certain level of ‘acceptable’ kinkiness in fashion photography. Addressed as the ‘King of Kink’ by TIME magazine, Helmut was a channel for different tendencies of eroticism including fetishes like bondage and dominance.

Saddle I, from the series Sleepless Nights, Paris 1976. With motivation from his wife June, Helmut pursued overtly sexual themes in his photos, deriving elements from his own history to inject a dangerous edge to his work. © Helmut Newton Estate

Saddle I, from the series Sleepless Nights, Paris 1976. With motivation from his wife June, Helmut pursued overtly sexual themes in his photos, deriving elements from his own history to inject a dangerous edge to his work. © Helmut Newton Estate

Even as he often pushed the envelope, art directors and magazine publishers still wanted him. Today, his work receives more appreciation than it did in his lifetime. More than challenging the rules and stereotypes of fashion, Helmut Newton challenged the stereotypes of photography and society, and continues to do so.

Helmut Newton was notorious for stirring up the fashion industry with his provocative images. To showcase his work, The Helmut Newton Foundation is organising two exhibitions—Alice Springs: The MEP Show, Berlin (on till 20 November 2016) and Helmut Newton: A Retrospective in Amsterdam (till 4 September 2016).

Tags: Anniversary Issue Vol 2, better photography, black and white, Commercial Photography, fashion, fashion photography, Fashion Stories, fetish, French, Helmut Newton, July 2016, modelling, monochrome, Sakshi parikh