Provocative, transgressive, controversial: his photography style has been described with a multitude of adjectives over the course of his career which spans several decades, and that’s why his work has been able to leave a lasting impression on the world of fashion.
This year we celebrate a special anniversary: 100 years since the birth of Helmut Newton, the photography genius who made it possible for us to see fashion from a different point of view.
Fashion was my first desire, even as a schoolboy. And, of course, I wanted to be a Vogue photographer
His story begins in Berlin in 1920, when he was born Helmut Neustädter to a well-off Jewish family. A passion for photography struck him at a young age and, at just 16 years old, that passion prompts him to take on an apprenticeship with Yva, one of the country’s most prolific fashion photographers.
In 1938, the Nazi regime forces him to flee the German Reich. He decides to undertake a long journey: first Singapore, then Australia, which leads him to meet June Browne just a few years later. The actress and photographer, known in the art world as Alice Springs, quickly became the love of his life as well as his most trusted collaborator. It’s with her by his side that he begins his journey to success, facing the deluge of criticism he experiences throughout his career with pride and a sharp fierceness.
You always have to live up to your bad reputation
1961 is a turning point. Moving with June to Paris and beginning his work with Vogue Paris indicate the beginning of Newton’s international success.
Through his camera, his gaze gives life to snapshots erupting with evidence of voyeurism. His great passion for female nudes and his strong links to sadomasochism render his approach to fashion a fully-fledged act of rebellion and non-conformity. But, if on one hand his art is considered irreverent, then on the other, it is capable of representing the ardent desire for revolution throughout the Seventies.
From here on, the hottest magazines and stylists in the world do nothing but vie for Helmut Newton’s camera lens.
The work of Helmut Newton defies categorization. Newton transcended genres, bringing elegance, style, and voyeurism to fashion […] photographyMatthias Harder, curator of the GAM Turin exhibition
The naked form of the models is placed at the forefront, even taking precedence over stylist’s articles. They make an exception for some accessories which Newton is completely obsessed with, like furs, high heels, and sheer stockings, which add further emphasis to Newton’s fanaticism for fetish elements.
From the Seventies, Helmut Newton’s works are augmented further with unedited portraits of famous figures: Claudia Schiffer, Gianni Agnelli, Gianfranco Ferré, and Catherine Deneuve are just some of the faces the great talent chooses to photograph over the course of the years.
Some of these shots can be seen today at the GAM in Turin, where, until the 8th of November 2020, 68 photographs are on display in an exhibit called “Helmut Newton. Works”.
Books, exhibitions, and collaborations with the biggest names in fashion, including Yves Saint Lauren, Versace, and Chanel, yet he doesn’t hesitate to stop after a sudden heart attack in 1970. Afterwards, he moves to Monaco and then to Los Angeles where, in 2004, he lost his life in a car crash.
Today, one hundred years after he was born, Helmut Newton can’t be seen as anything less than the most revolutionary photographer the 20th century has offered us thanks to his ability to interpret fashion with a new perspective.