The German/Australian photographer Helmut Newton was born in 1920. At a casual glance, one finds it hard to believe that his highly provocative shots that revolutionised fashion photography were created by someone whose artistic journey had begun in mid-20th century. Initially toying with the idea of becoming a paparazzi, Helmut Newton ultimately reached unprecedented heights, shooting iconic portraits of Margaret Thatcher and Salvador Dalí and having among the admirers of his talent such global luminaries as Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Twiggy, and Elizabeth Taylor, to name just a few.
Since the 1980s, this grand provocateur gained widespread acclaim for his portraits of Catherine Deneuve, Sting, Sophia Loren, Monica Bellucci, Sigourney Weaver, and Jane Birkin, while his famous photo of Cindy Crawford with a Doberman is considered one of the most seminal images in modern-day portraiture. And yet it was his work in the 1970s that shocked and stunned the public.
Having survived a heart attack in 1971, Helmut managed to deal with its after-effects with the help and support from his wife and muse June. This experience ushered in a new stage in Newton’s creative career, paving the way for more explicit shots redefining femininity and for the first time showing women in the position of power and authority.
The images created over that period, often imbued with voyeuristic or fetishist subtexts, outraged the conservative public and feminists alike, although Newton caused a pronounced split in the ranks of the latter: while some condemned his output as being exploitative, others gave credit to the image of a powerful and openly dominating woman celebrated by the photographer. As for Newton himself, he subscribed to the notion that ‘Voyeurism in photography is a necessary and professional sickness.’
Born Helmut Neustädter into a Jewish family in Berlin in 1920, Helmut Newton expressed an early interest in photography and in 1936 began working for the German photographer Elsie Simon, who went by the name Yva. After his family fled Germany in 1938, Newton landed in Singapore, where he found work as a photographer. He was interned by authorities in Singapore and sent to Australia. Upon his release, he served in the Australian army for five years, enabling him to become an Australian citizen and changed his name to Helmut Newton in 1946.
Newton became an iconic fashion photographer recognized for his radical, edgy, and, at times, racy subject matter. Inspired by film noir, Expressionist cinema and surrealism, Newton’s images are controversial, provocative, and heavily voyeuristic in nature. Like Norman Parkinson, Richard Avedon, and Irving Penn, Newton became one of the most influential and talented photographers of his period.
Newton's work has been exhibited worldwide and featured in magazines and numerous monographs. The preservation and presentation of his work is managed by the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin, which was established in 2003.
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