Helmut Newton (1920-2004) was a German-Australian photographer whose works appeared in lots of fashion magazines, like Vogue, French Vogue, Marie-Claire, Elle, and Playboy. Newton made numerous nude photographs in a recognizable black and white style. He worked with Madonna, Cindy Crawford, Monica Belucci, Linda Evangelista and many others. His shoots provoked some modern philosophers to speak about the problem of nudity, eroticism, and fashion in modern society.
Portrait Helmut Newton
“Crocodile eating Ballerina”, 1983
Newton was born in Berlin in a Jewish family. He showed interest in photography at the age of 12 and four years later began working as an apprentice of German photographer Elsie Simon. Due to the growing oppression of Jews in Germany, his family had to leave the country in 1938. Newton moved to Singapore, where he found employment as a photographer for the Straits Times. Singapore was a colony of Britain, and British authorities sent all German refugees, considered to be Nazi spies, to Australian camps. This way, Newton settled down in Australia.
June Brown, the wife of Newton (photo by Newton)
Madonna by Newton, 1990 (everyday-i-show.livejournal.com/)
Sigourney Weaver ,1995
He created a photo studio in Melbourne in 1946. Later fashion photographer Henry Talbot became his partner and co-owner of the studio. In 1948, Newton married the Australian model and actress June Brown, who also was a model for his photos. Growing popularity allowed him to win a year contract with British Vogue, so in 1957 he moved to London, while Talbot managed the studio.
After working with the British magazine, Newton contributed to the fashion tabloids of German and France. In 1961, the photographer with his wife finally moved to Paris and started working with French Vogue. In the 1980s and 1990s, he created the iconic series “Big Nudes,” “Naked and Dressed,” and “Domestic Nudes.”
“Big Nude Una”, 1993 (GBP 9,000 at Sotheby’s)
“Big Nude Verina”, 1993
“Big Nude Yuko”, 1993
“Big Nude Raquel”, 1993
“Big Nude I, Lisa, Paris”, 1981
Later years Newton lived in Monte Carlo and Los Angeles. He died at the age of 83 when he lost control of his car and hit a wall. His shots for Playboy were hammered down for 21 075$ and 26 290$ in 2002 and 2003. Works of Helmut Newton are still on display. The latest exhibitions happened in 2020 in Turin, Wedel, Berlin, and Barcelona.
“Two Models in My Apartment, Paris”, 1975 (GBP 8,750 at Sotheby’s)
“Rich Girls, Bordighera, Italy”, 1982 (Artsy.net)
Debra And Red, Exterior, Beverly Hills, 1991
“Office Love”, 1984
Newton and Hans Bellmer
Speaking of Bellmer in one of our previous articles, we highlighted his urge to create a doll that could satisfy secret desires. He also tried to turn the alive body of his girlfriend Unica Zürn into kind of a flexible doll using what we call now the shibari technique. Shots of Helmut Newton with a touch of sadism (e. g. “Domestic Nudes”) display a similar intention: fashion photographer underlines the fact that models are mannequins (see his juxtaposition of a model and her plastic twin).
“The Two Violettas”, 1991
“The Two Violettas In Bed”, 1991
“In My Hotel Room”, 1976
“Domestic Nude”, 1992
Dressed and Undressed
The viewer of Newton’s set “Big Nudes” may admit that the dispassionate facial expression of his naked models neutralizes their nudity. They expose their bodies as freely as fashionable clothes. This phenomenon drew the attention of Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben and made him speculate on a theme of the human body, nudity, and sin.
“They Are Coming”, 1981
Giorgio Agamben, “Nudities” (2009):
“In November 1981 Helmut Newton published a diptych in Vogue that would soon become famous under the title “They are coming.” On the magazine’s left page we see four completely naked women (apart from their shoes, which the photographer apparently could not do without) walking in a cold and stiff manner, like models in a fashion show. The facing page to the right displays the same models in the very same positions, but this time they are immaculately dressed in elegant clothes. The singular effect produced by this diptych is that, contrary to all appearances, the two images are actually the same. The models wear their nudity in exactly the same way that, on the opposite page, they wear their attire.
The second part of the diptych
Even if it is not likely that the photographer had a theological intent, certainly the nudity/clothing apparatus seems to be evoked here and, perhaps unintentionally, called into question. All the more so when, republishing the same diptych two years later in Big Nudes,
Newton reversed the order of the images so that the dressed women precede the nude women, just as in Paradise the clothing of grace [Agamben means here that first people in Paradise didn’t realize their nudity because they were dressed in God’s glory, which they lost after the fall] precedes the denudation. But even in this reversed order the effect remains unchanged: neither the eyes of the models nor the eyes of the spectator have been opened; there is neither shame nor glory.
The equivalence of the two images is further enhanced by the faces of the models, which express – as is the convention among fashion models – the same indifference in both photos. The face – which in the pictorial depictions of the Fall is the place where the artist represents the sorrow, shame, and dismay of the fallen couple – acquires here the same gelid inexpressiveness: it is no longer a face. In any case, the essential point is that in Newton’s diptych nudity has not taken place (translated by David Kishik and Stefan Pedatella).”
Below you can see some other seductive works of Helmut Newton…
“Untitled I”, Bel Air, 1989
“Winnie at the Negresco”, Nice, (De Private Property I), 1975
“Tied up torso,” Ramatuelle, 1992
“Nude in Seaweed”, St. Tropez, 1981
‘Domestic Nude X, Young Woman Lying Under My Desk‘, Chateau Marmont, Hollywood, 1992
“2 Playmates” Hollywood, 1986
“Nude In Pumps”, ca. 1975
“Nude On Bed”, ca. 1980
“Eiffel Tower”, 1974
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