Fine Art Photography Series
Helmut Newton

German-born Fashion Photographer Famous for Erotic Fashion Photographs.
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"Sie Kommen" ("They're Coming")
(Dressed) (1981) gelatin silver print.
Photo by Helmut Newton.

Helmut Newton (1920-2004)

Contents

Biography
Life and Career
Selected Exhibitions
Other Famous Camera Artists

For more about the early inventions upon which today's camera art is based, please see: History of Photography (c.1800-1900).



"Sie Kommen" ("They're Coming")
(Undressed) (1981).
Photo by Helmut Newton.

GLOSSARY
For a short explanation of
photographic terms, see:
Art Photography Glossary.

LENS BASED ARTISTS
For the Top 80 camera
artists and inventors, see:
Photographers: 19th-Century.

Biography

A unique and highly influential figure in contemporary fine art photography, Helmut Newton was one of the world's greatest fashion photographers, whose erotically charged black-and-white photos achieved near permanent status on the covers of Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and other glossy magazines. His camera art - mixing fashion, nudity and beauty - made him one of the most talked-about contemporary artists of the 1980s and 90s, while his compositional talent took fashion photography to a new artistic level. According to the curator Zdenek Felix: "From fashion shots to portraits, from nude studies to the world of ballet, from the erotic to the subject of death - Newton's work encompassed an almost baroque abundance of themes."

Newton achieved notoriety during the late 1960s when he began incorporating imagery involving voyeurism, sado-masochism and lesbianism into his fashion photography. His female subjects were photographed in suggestive poses, seemingly unaware of the camera. His models were typically tall and strong with perfect physiques - the prototypes of later 'super-models' of the 1980s. The scenarios he arranged were shocking at the time, but their impact has lessened with the growth of erotic photography worldwide. A key feature of his photography is its ambiguity - viewers are never quite sure how to react to the scene presented. This edgy ambivalence, allied to his style and panache, is what separates his pictures from those of his many imitators. And his technical brilliance - the way that he composes, frames and illuminates his photos, as exemplified in his masterpiece "Sie Kommen" ("They're Coming") (1981) - is a lesson in itself. Ranked among the greatest photographers of the late 20th century, including Norman Parkinson (1913-90), Irving Penn (1917-2009), Richard Avedon (1923-2004) and David Bailey (b.1938), Newton's unique contribution was to give fashion photography a noir edge, making it one of the coolest genres of contemporary art in the public domain.

For a brief guide to the aesthetics and artistic nature of lens-based art, please see: Is Photography Art?

 

Life and Career

Born Helmut Neustaedter, to a Jewish family in Berlin, Germany, his fascination with photography began with the purchase of his first camera at the age of 12. At 16 he was apprenticed to the photographer Elsie Neulander Simon (known simply as Yva), who was renowned for her elegant fashion, theatrical and nude photographs. In 1938, as the Nazi anti-Jewish campaign became more restrictive - in this context, see the dark art of Leni Riefenstahl (1902-2003) - Newton's parents secured him passage on a ship bound for the Orient, before fleeing themselves to South America. He stopped at Singapore until 1940, before making his way to Australia, where he served five years in the army. In 1946 he became an Australian citizen and set himself up in Melbourne as a professional photographer specializing in fashion and theatre photography. In 1948 he married the actress June Brunell, who remained his partner until his death.

In 1953 Newton achieved his first big break when he was commissioned to produce a series of fashion shots in a special Australian supplement for Vogue magazine, which appeared in early 1956. On the strength of this he was given a 12-month contract with British Vogue and moved to London in February 1957. In 1961 he settled in Paris where he worked on fashion shoots for a variety of prestigious magazines including, most significantly, French Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. Later he shot covers for Playboy, Nova, Oui, Marie-Claire and Elle, as well as the American, Italian, and German editions of Vogue.

In the late 1960s, early 70s, he began to create (with the support of his wife) - a new style of erotic pictorialism - a type of fashion photography involving cool statuesque, and sexually experienced women, complete with overtones of voyeurism, sado-masochism, fetishism and lesbianism - the absolute antithesis of the Feminist art being produced in America at the time. In any event Newton's provocative interpretation of elegant and decadent lifestyles, with its powerful, confrontational female nudes, was light years away from the conventional fashion photography practiced by his contemporaries, but the publishing industry loved it.

In addition, Newton developed an interest in portrait photography, notably of celebrities from the world of fashion, film, politics and industry, many of which were featured during the 1980s in Vanity Fair magazine.

He died aged 83 from injuries received in a car crash near his home in Southern California.

Selected Exhibitions

1975 Amsterdam (Canon Gallery)
1975 Paris (Galerie Nikon)
1976 London (Photographers' Gallery)
1984 Paris (Musee d'Art Moderne)
1987 Bonn (Rheinisches Landesmuseum)
1988 Berlin (Berlinische Galerie)
1989 Madrid (Fundacion Caja de Pensiones)
1992 Paris (Credit Foncier)
1993 Hamburg (Deichtorhallen)
1997 Berlin (Camera Work)
2000 Berlin (Neue Nationalgalerie)
2003 Moscow (Moscow House of Photography)
2004 Berlin (and 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008; Helmut Newton Stiftung)
2005 Munich (Hypo Kunsthalle)
2006 Milan (Palazzo Reale)

Photographs by Helmut Newton are regularly shown in some of the best galleries of contemporary art across America.

Other Famous Camera Artists

Edward Steichen (1879-1973)
The first fashion photographer.

Cecil Beaton (1904-1980)
British fashion and portrait photographer noted for his elegant and stylish images for magazines like Vogue and Vanity Fair.

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Contemporary American photographer noted for her intense and often disturbing portraits of people on the fringes of society.

Annie Leibovitz (born 1949)
Postmodernist portrait photographer of popular celebrities.

Nan Goldin (b.1953)
Postmodernist camera artist best known for her photos of deviants.

• For more about contemporary fashion photography, see: Homepage.


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