Text by Tony Ward, Copyright 2023
A Tribute to Helmut Newton
Like most photographers of my generation who got involved in photography in the early 1970’s I was influenced by the work of Helmut Newton. I came across his photography in 1977 while visiting a fashion exhibition at the George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. It was a group show that also included the work of Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Chris von Waggenheim, Hiro and other giants of fashion photography during that era.
I had the pleasure of meeting Helmut Newton and his wife June in Paris in the year 2000 while Helmut and I coincidentally were both checking in at the swanky Royal Monceau., located in the 8th arrondissement. Helmut was known for staying at the luxurious hotel when on assignment in Paris.
For those that are not familiar with his work, Helmut Newton was a German-Australian photographer who rose to fame in the 1960s for his provocative and controversial fashion photography. Born in Berlin in 1920, he spent his early years studying photography at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Berlin.
During World War II, Newton fled to Australia, where he began his career as a photographer and also was where he met June, who became a lifelong companion. He worked for various fashion magazines and advertising agencies, developing a unique style that was both erotic and dramatic.
Newton’s work often featured female models in fetishistic poses, and his use of high contrast lighting and bold compositions made his images stand out. His photographs were often criticized for their objectification of women, but Newton maintained that he was celebrating female power and sexuality.
In the 1970s, Newton moved to Paris, where he continued to work for top fashion magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. He became known for his portraits of famous celebrities, including Mick Jagger, David Bowie, and Salvador Dali.
Newton’s photographs often had a cinematic quality, with their use of strong narrative elements and dramatic lighting. He also experimented with new techniques, such as the use of Polaroid film and large-format cameras, which gave his images a unique and timeless quality.
In the 1990s, Newton published a series of books that showcased his work, including “Sumo,” a limited-edition volume that weighed 66 pounds and was the largest book ever produced at the time. He continued to work until his death in 2004, when he was killed in a car accident in Los Angeles at the Chateau Marmont Hotel.
Despite the controversy surrounding his work, Helmut Newton remains one of the most influential fashion photographers of the 20th century. His images continue to inspire and challenge viewers, and his legacy lives on through the many photographers he has influenced including myself.
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