Helmut Newton Smoking Nude, Beverly Hills
Lena Snow
5 min

Helmut Newton: Who Was the Man Behind the Camera?

5 min

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.

 helmut newton Catherine Deneuve

Fig. 1: Catherine Deneuve, Paris 1976

 June Newton, Paris helmut newton

Fig. 2: June Newton, Paris 1972

 Helmut Newton Ca’ del Bosco, Italy

Fig. 3: Ca’ del Bosco, Italy 1989

 Helmut Newton Smoking Nude, Beverly Hills

Fig. 4: Smoking Nude, Beverly Hills, 1991

 Fashion Yves Saint Laurent, Père Lachaise, Paris by Helmut Newton

Fig. 5: Fashion Yves Saint Laurent, Père Lachaise, Paris 1977

 Eva Whalen by Helmut Newton

Fig. 6: Eva Whalen, Berlin 1978

 Helmut Newton  Panoramic Nude, Lake Como

Fig. 7: Panoramic Nude, Lake Como, Italy 1989 I and II

 Helmut Newton Panoramic Nude, Lake Como

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.

Helmut Berger, Beverly Hills by Helmut Newton

Fig. 9: Helmut Berger, Beverly Hills 1984

helmut newton Brigitte Nielsen

Fig. 10: Brigitte Nielsen, Hotel Hermitage, Monte Carlo 1987

 Charlotte Rampling, Arles, France by Helmut Newton

Fig. 11: Charlotte Rampling, Arles, France 1973

 enny Capitain, Monte Carlo by Helmut Newton

Fig. 12: Jenny Capitain, Monte Carlo 1987

Traveler, Prague by Helmut Newton

Fig. 13: Traveler, Prague 1988

Big Nude XIII, Paris by Helmut Newton

Fig. 14: Big Nude XIII, Paris 1993

 Sylvia in my studio, Paris by Helmut Newton

Fig. 15: Sylvia in my studio, Paris 1981

Sexual Revolution

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.

Laura Livingston, Beverly Hills by Helmut Newton

Fig. 16: Laura Livingston, Beverly Hills, 1981

Become a Premium member now and enjoy the extended version (more than twice as long) of the article in which we pay attention to Newton's secret technique of capturing female beauty and how he used the psychology of the male viewer, the photographer's character, much more on Von Boehm's documentary on Newton, and many more mesmerizing images.

Click HERE for a study on the nude aesthetics in Newton's groundbreaking book SUMO, or here for the controversy of Newton's nude photography.

Sources: Helmut Newton, edited by June Newton, Taschen, 2009, nytimes.com, theguardian.com, deutschlandfunkkultur.de