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Think you know everything about Helmut Newton? Think again

“The desire to discover, the desire to excite, the taste to capture.” With these three suggestions, Helmut Newton (born Helmut Neustädter; 31 October 1920 – 23 January 2004) summed up the art of photography.

Helmut Newton. Elsa Peretti as a Bunny. New York, 1975 © Helmut Newton Foundation

Helmut Newton. Elsa Peretti as a Bunny. New York, 1975 © Helmut Newton Foundation

Restless and ingenious, Newton can be considered the father of modern photography: he completely disrupted fashion photography by introducing eroticism and nudes with an unmistakable taste for transgression, which he conveyed through bold and, sometimes, stunning shots.

Helmut Newton. Shoe, Walter Steiger. Monte Carlo, 1983 © Helmut Newton Foundation

Helmut Newton. Shoe, Walter Steiger. Monte Carlo, 1983 © Helmut Newton Foundation

Every photographer today draws on his photography and cannot fail to consider it a source of inspiration, even more so now that social networks and, more generally, marketing revolve around images and the power of communication.

Helmut Newton. Fashion. Melbourne, 1955 © Helmut Newton Foundation

Helmut Newton. Fashion. Melbourne, 1955 © Helmut Newton Foundation

 

Exhibiting Helmut Newton’s “Legacy”

The latest big retrospective in Milan, the “HELMUT NEWTON. LEGACY” exhibition at Palazzo Reale, allows us to admire over 250 photographs, magazines, documents and videos.

Helmut Newton. Monica Bellucci, Blumarine. Nice, 1993. Photo by Luca Zanon © Helmut Newton Foundation

Helmut Newton. Monica Bellucci, Blumarine. Nice, 1993. Photo by Luca Zanon © Helmut Newton Foundation

Alongside the most iconic images, a selection of unpublished shots is presented for the first time in Italy to show the artist’s real and lesser-known soul through portraits, nudes and a specific focus on his most unconventional fashion shots.

The “HELMUT NEWTON. LEGACY” exhibition at Palazzo Reale © Luca Zanon

The “HELMUT NEWTON. LEGACY” exhibition at Palazzo Reale © Luca Zanon

Running until June 25, 2023, the exhibition of the artist’s complete works is curated by Matthias Harder, director of the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin, and Denis Curti, art director of Le Stanze della Fotografia in Venice and author of several books on photography.

The “HELMUT NEWTON. LEGACY” exhibition traces the entire career of one of the most beloved and iconic photographers through over 250 photographs, magazines, documents and videos of all times

 

Helmut Newton. Mick Jagger. Paris, 1977. Photo by Luca Zanon © Helmut Newton Foundation

Helmut Newton. Mick Jagger. Paris, 1977. Photo by Luca Zanon © Helmut Newton Foundation

The “HELMUT NEWTON. LEGACY” retrospective traces the renowned photographer’s entire body of work, from his Berlin debut to the Polaroids taken in the 1990s, illustrating the main genres Helmut Newton focused on throughout his enthralling career: fashion, nudes, and portraits. The exhibition is arranged chronologically and highlights Newton’s production by decade.

Helmut Newton. Andy Warhol, L’Uomo Vogue. Paris, 1974 © Helmut Newton Foundation

Helmut Newton. Andy Warhol, L’Uomo Vogue. Paris, 1974 © Helmut Newton Foundation

Black and white photos arouse amazement and induce reflection on the necessary play of light and shadow to highlight the subjects.

Helmut Newton. Elle. 1967 © Helmut Newton Foundation

Helmut Newton. Elle. 1967 © Helmut Newton Foundation

The exhibition path continues to coloured portraits and pictures featured by the most influential fashion magazines, fully enclosing the eroticism embodied by the female figures of powerful women. Bold and vibrant colours, such as red, orange and black, bring out the positions of power and dominance of women who captivate the viewer’s attention.

Helmut Newton and his transgressive photography, meticulously planned and paying close attention to lighting and composition, have left an indelible mark on the history of photography

In this journey, divided into chronological chapters, visitors can go through almost sixty years of provocative, unconventional and elegant shots, which have become essential milestones in visual communication and photographic language. Last but not least, a selection of unreleased photographs reveals more intimate aspects of Newton’s work. 

Helmut Newton. Self-portrait. Monte Carlo, 1993 © Helmut Newton Foundation

Helmut Newton. Self-portrait. Monte Carlo, 1993 © Helmut Newton Foundation

We find the exhibition particularly fascinating, involving the visitor through a visual and interactive journey, actively immersing them in the reality surrounding the artist.

 

Helmut Newton took subtle provocation to a whole new level

Helmut Newton is well-known for his markedly provocative shots, skillfully playing with ambiguous situations and feminine and androgynous subjects. “But Newton’s naked women were dressed in pride; they appeared to be powerful women, whose autonomy the great photographer celebrated,” explained Denis Curti, one of the two curators of the “HELMUT NEWTON. LEGACY” exhibition. 

Helmut Newton. Italian Vogue. Como, 1996 © Helmut Newton Foundation

Helmut Newton. Italian Vogue. Como, 1996 © Helmut Newton Foundation

These women look at us through Newton’s shots as if they were challenging us. It’s all about a clean but never vulgar eroticism, as Curti concluded. “Newton was not ‘just’ a fashion photographer: he was a visionary, a genius capable of reading society right into its most hidden folds,” Curti wrote in his book, Capire la fotografia contemporanea. Guida pratica all’arte del futuro, Marsilio Editori, 2020. “With his photography, Newton gave shape to desires, fantasies and perversions without becoming entangled in coarse vulgarity as an end in itself. Revolution, rather than provocation: there is more beyond the nude.” 

Helmut Newton. Rue Aubriot, Yves Saint Laurent, French Vogue. Paris, 1975 © Helmut Newton Foundation

Helmut Newton. Rue Aubriot, Yves Saint Laurent, French Vogue. Paris, 1975 © Helmut Newton Foundation

“A shot Newton took on the streets of Paris became one of the most famous fashion photographs of all time, first published in September 1975 in French Vogue within a multipage editorial on Yves Saint Laurent’s 1975/76 haute couture collection,” detailed curator Matthias Harder. “The image, which acquired the title Rue Aubriot, would later be shown as a life-size print in Newton exhibitions worldwide. […] He photographed the scene in the Marais district of Paris; the rue Aubriot was the location of his apartment. A certain ambiguity resonates here.”

His irreverent eye as a ‘professional voyeur,’ as he liked to call himself, rewrote the old stuffed aesthetic codes, disrupting fashion photography in the 1970s. 

Helmut Newton. Mansfield, British Vogue. London, 1967 © Helmut Newton Foundation

Helmut Newton. Mansfield, British Vogue. London, 1967 © Helmut Newton Foundation

His universe is filled with references from the history of painting to cinematography and literary suggestions, leveraged in famous shots to tell a story far beyond the moment captured in a photograph. 

The women featured in Helmut Newton’s shots are portrayed as provocative and full of eroticism yet never vulgar 

The "HELMUT NEWTON. LEGACY" exhibition at Palazzo Reale. Portraits of Helmut and June Newton © Luca Zanon

The "HELMUT NEWTON. LEGACY" exhibition at Palazzo Reale. Portraits of Helmut and June Newton © Luca Zanon

Newton’s muse and wife, June Newton (also known as Alice Springs), inspired his entire career. She was one of the first successful female photographers, and in 1995, she produced “Helmut by June”, a documentary that tells her husband’s life through images and videos. It reveals the magical relationship between the photographer and his lens. But we must especially acknowledge June Newton for her unique perspective and mastery in capturing the moment the camera went off. That’s when you can see all the tenderness, collaboration and fun that filled their relationship.

 

 

Domiziana De Lorenzi and Antonio Ferrigno
Fashion Business, Digital Communication & Media student, 2nd year, Milan  
Course
Programme
undergraduate-BA (Hons) Degrees · 3-Year courses