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HELMUT NEWTON, the stylish voyeur

The elegant eye and dandy of photography Helmut Newton crashed his car when leaving the Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles in January 2004; a death worthy of Newton. Convertible car, hotel, palm trees and a weary heart, which had already played tricks on him; he drove his car into a wall.
The absolutely flawless and powerful work goes hand in hand with his personal life and both of them are a reflection of a century. Born in Berlin by a German Jewish father who owned a button factory and an American mother. He became interested in photography already at the age of 12 when he bought his first camera. He was a student and assistant of the famous fashion photographer Yva.

The rise of Nazism led his father to be interned in a concentration camp, forcing the family to leave Germany. In Trieste he boarded the ‘Conte Rosso’ (along with about 200 others who escaped the Nazis) with the intention of travelling to China.

The family properties disappeared and he never saw his father again. In his flight, Singapore, sex, Australia, the army… Until June, alias Alice Springs, the actress who appeared in 1946 and to whom he would be married more than half a century. “All the other girls were, actually, just for the bed. With her there were other dimensions”, he said.

He immediately finds his place in the important magazines, his fame grows and it is said that he has a scandalous eye but chic; cool yet exhilarating; sophisticated but intimate.

He never shot many photos, but the staging was perfect. He used all his fantasies, perfect women in a world of consented submission. Hotels, dark streets, certain compositions have been called “porno chic”. A catalogue of elegant sexuality for people who enjoy the observed object more than the possessed object.

In Newton everything was big, so when Sumo is published he does an exclusive work of art for collectors only. The greatest photo book ever published: nearly four hundred photographs, a feast of Valkyries, celebrities, actresses and all the imagination of the photographer. A feast of portraits and bodies, of eroticism and fashion … “It was somewhat biographical, Sumo was him” says the editor.

The criticism from some feminists, accusing him of being a woman hater, has been constant but many of them also recognize the liberating role of Newton in the female role. Newton had irony and humour and sometimes presented a handcuffed and submissive man surrendering all power to the female model. The woman in the photographs of Newton is not weak, because where there is beauty there is often danger and where there is power there is seduction. The beauty, danger, power and seduction are the subjects of the images of Newton and all these things together may be too disturbing sometimes.

His women put their heels on the body of the knight, in a threatening manner. And despite his efforts to seem pornographic, what Newton really captured was the time, a time of women managing business just as well as their bodies. And just as interesting vertically as horizontally.

During the last forty years, Helmut Newton (1920-2004) was considered one of the best in obtaining the most influential and visionary images. He specialized in fashion, nudes and portraits. His work was published in magazines such as Elle, Vogue, Vanity Fair, Paris Match, Der Spiegel and Stern. He has had over 100 exhibitions of his work since 1975 and a museum dedicated to his work, opened in Berlin (2004).

The cult writer J.G. Ballard said that Newton was “the greatest visual artist of the century” and he was certainly one of the best portraying women at the end of the millennium. Sometimes fantasies like Newton’s, upset people because we recognize them in ourselves.

His pictures were often very funny. If you could pay the price of admission to his psychic world… you’d be able to tell the difference between cold and hot, master and servant or splendour and misery.

Two pairs of legs

Charlotte

A Scene from Pina Bausch's Ballet, 1983

Helmut Newton photographed by his wife

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Comments

  1. india / 13 February 2012

    Una se dice que hay que mirar las imágenes y ponerse en el momento en que se hicieron… y sin embargo, a veces te sorprende aún más precisamente hacerlo, porque es como si fuera al revés, como si el autor se pudiera en los momentos posteriores en que serán vistas…
    En cierto modo, creo que ya Newton tuvo el detalle de regalarnos parte de esa entrada a su psique, aunque sea al hall nada más… profundizar en las siguientes estancias, como debe ser, se queda en un lujo para sus elegidos, sí?
    El placer de leer sus reseñas debe ser casi pornochic también, Sra.Garrido.
    Saludos!

  2. Pilar Mandl / 2 March 2012

    ¡Bien descrito! En el museo estuve hace unos meses, no dejan hacer fotos ni con el móvil… Me gusta la selección de imágenes.

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