Helmut Newton: Who Was the Man Behind the Camera?
When Gero von Boehm, a German film and documentary producer, heard of Helmut Newton’s death on the news, he first thought this had to be a joke. One day later, he had a phone call with June Newton who confirmed the death of her husband on January 23, 2004. Both were involved in a car crash in Los Angeles, after losing control of the car. Newton suffered from a heart attack and crashed his car in the driveway of the Chateau. He died at the age of 83, June survived and died at 97 in 2021. Newton will be primarily remembered for his provocative nude photography, but what mattered to him most was actually work of cities, photographs at night and striking individuals. Many admirers of his work ask themselves how the man behind the camera was like. A question Gero von Boehm tried to approach in his documentary “The Bad and the Beautiful” from 2020.
Fig. 1: Catherine Deneuve, Paris 1976
Fig. 2: June Newton, Paris 1972
Fig. 3: Ca’ del Bosco, Italy 1989
Fig. 4: Smoking Nude, Beverly Hills, 1991
Fig. 5: Fashion Yves Saint Laurent, Père Lachaise, Paris 1977
Fig. 6: Eva Whalen, Berlin 1978
Fig. 7: Panoramic Nude, Lake Como, Italy 1989 I and II
Fig. 8: Panoramic Nude, Lake Como, Italy 1989 III and IV
Unprecedented and Unique
On the occasion of Newton’s 100th birthday, von Boehm wanted to present the viewer a film that brings us closer to Newton and his work. In an interview von Boehm explained the difficult background of Newton that made his story so unique. Newton was confronted with the Weimar era; he grew up in Nazi Germany as an ordinary boy in Berlin and, being Jewish, had to flee at the age of 18. He traveled all around the world, experienced poverty and hardship, but also glamour and wealth. Von Boehm concludes that this plethora of experiences and cultures throughout time made him a unique personality that would be hard to find elsewhere. Also, Newton’s path contributed to a mixture of tradition and anarchy in his work that von Boehm describes as unprecedented.
Fig. 9: Helmut Berger, Beverly Hills 1984
Fig. 10: Brigitte Nielsen, Hotel Hermitage, Monte Carlo 1987
Fig. 11: Charlotte Rampling, Arles, France 1973
Fig. 12: Jenny Capitain, Monte Carlo 1987
Fig. 13: Traveler, Prague 1988
Fig. 14: Big Nude XIII, Paris 1993
Fig. 15: Sylvia in my studio, Paris 1981
Most of his work has to be regarded in the context of its time. Especially in the 1970s, when Newton was on the rise, were also the time of sexual revolution. The naked body wasn’t taboo anymore and at the same time this revolution influenced fashion photography. Before, all work in fashion had to be beautiful and sort of conformist which some might even call boring. With Newton however, this changed completely, and he rattled system with his provocative and almost outrageous photos. With his series of dressed and undressed women, for example, he wanted to express that women don’t need haute couture to be of value. His message was: women can also be strong and beautiful while being naked.
Fig. 16: Laura Livingston, Beverly Hills, 1981
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Sources: Helmut Newton, edited by June Newton, Taschen, 2009, nytimes.com, theguardian.com, deutschlandfunkkultur.de