Helmut Newton was a pretty excentric man born in 1920 in Berlin, Germany, in a very financially comfortable family. 1932 was the year he bought his first camera: he was twelve years old, and he never let go of his passion ever since. Having his mind set over being a photo journalist, Newton got purposefully kicked out of school. With the help of his mother, he became apprentice photographer with Else Simon, a female portrait and fashion photographer. Few years later he would try different countries to finally end up in Paris where he found his inspiration, encouraged by his wife, June Browne, an actress who ended up photographer after meeting her husband. It is in Paris in 1971, after many years of failing to become good photo journalist, taking any gigs here and there that he finally went deeper into the style of photo we now know him for. From 1971, his style would influence the whole world of fashion and glamour photography, which became what it is today, partly because of him. He died in 2004 of a heart attack while driving his car.
THE IDEA BEHIND HIS WORK
Helmut is directly or indirectly provoking throughout his images. He considers himself a lover of strong women and wants to represent women as such in his pictures. What brings contradiction and provocation though, is the use of sexual themes. Putting these strong women in vulnerable “outfits” defies political correctness and thus, brought him haste from feminists. To show women, adopting a strong and straight attitude in all their nakedness, tends to desexualize the subjects and succeeds in demonstrating the strength and the boldness of women.
His main influences were Alexander Rodchenko, Brassai and Erich Salomon.
Newton also mixes the poor and decadent world with the Bourgeoisie in his scenes, painting disturbing behaviors from high status people and bringing the viewer to uneasiness. He likes to use taboos and he enjoys shocking people. He is looking to disturb spectators of his work and has no shyness in exposing contexts that are socially unwanted. Helmut would also use sado-masochistic and fetishistic subtexts. In consequence to all of this, his images appearing in American magazines have often been distilled compared to European magazines where the real sexual content of his images is shown. That is probably one of the reason why he enjoyed Paris so much and could not stand living in a place where his art, thus his vision of life, was in a way dismissed. He did not understand a society controlled by taboos and in fact, did not understand why there were taboos. Although there IS after all esthetic in his photos Newton says:
“Some people’s photography is an art. Not mine. Art is a dirty word in photography. All this fine art crap is killing it already.”
His persistence in photographing erotic scenes opened people’s mind on the subject and allowed more freedom to other photographers to express their art despite political correctness.
His work has appeared in the most famous magazines such as: French Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Playboy. He has won many awards throughout his career. His most famous photo would be "Here they come" which can be sold at 600 000 dollars. Even nowadays, many artists are being influenced by his work such as Lady Gaga in her video “Paparazzi”, using the theme of having a physical handicap but still appearing tough.
THE WAY HE WORKS
Throughouthis career, Helmut Newton used very minimal equipment and even less lighting. He would use his camera flash unit and even when provided with studio lights, very seldom would he use it. He did not like shooting in studio and was usually working with one assistant only. He preferred creating his own fashion world by setting his photoshoots in expensive hotels, chic streets and working class districts. He cared about concentrating on the woman and the world surrounding her than on the hardware. A lot of his time was devoted to prepare the concepts and write down his ideas before he came into action.
Another aspect of him that differentiated from the other photographers was his choice of making his colourprints highly saturated, to make it look like postcards. This was due to his colour blindness which made it impossible for him to tell the difference between green and blue, and green and yellow. In his black and white photography, Helmut also demonstrates high contrast lighting that adds to the visual effect he is looking for.
It is not the equipment, the skills nor the knowledge that makes a photographer famous. These are elements that give a photographer the ability to have his own studio and take nice family portraits or accurate product shots. It is when a photographer is able to express his special way of looking at things, his way of seeing the world, that will influence photography as we know it.
Extremelly interesting link to Helmut’s quotes :
Movie his wife June Browne made of him :