Fashion, eroticism and an obsession with the feminine nude – The life and works of photographer, Helmut Newton

German fashion and portrait photographer Helmut Newton (1920-2004) once remarked, “A photographer needs no explanation”; a comment undoubtedly directed at those who questioned his own work.

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Newton’s style of photography was, and still is, considered controversial for its time.  Depicting erotic and borderline pornographic concepts with sadomasochistic undertones, Newton’s provocative images - mostly taken in black and white - capture his predilection for the feminine nude and his vision to transform the image of a woman.  Through his photographs, Newton sought to show the world a woman who is independent and responsible for creating her own pleasures in life.

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As the most internationally renowned fashion and portrait photographer of the 1970s and 1980s, Newton’s works can be found in various galleries around the world and in the archives of several major fashion magazines, including French Vogue.

For a time, Newton settled in Australia where he opened his first photographic studio and also met his wife-to-be, actress June Brunell.  In 1961, they moved to Paris where they lived until Newton’s untimely death in 2004.

Newton described his job as photographer as being: “to seduce, amuse and entertain”.  No other photographer has successfully emulated Newton’s style of combining elements of fashion, nudity, eroticism and portrait photography to create an image more suitably categorised as art than photo. 

The Art Gallery of NSW is currently hosting over 30 of Newton’s works taken at the pinnacle of his career.  Most of the images on display are from his Private Property series, inviting the viewer to reconstruct their ideas of glamour and beauty within the setting of “high society”.

Images from Newton's "High Society" collection, showing at The Art Gallery of NSW

Images from Newton's "High Society" collection, showing at The Art Gallery of NSW

Also being hosted at the exhibition are photographic works from former model and journalist, Bettina Rheims.  Rheims is better known for her images of women and in their expression of female desire, but her “Modern Lovers” series– the collection currently on show - signalled a major shift in her photographic style.  She describes the images as emanating the unreal beauty of “beings who were in the process of being formed”; they depict an androgynous image of youth and highlight the moment when man becomes woman and woman becomes man.  A photograph of a very young and innocent Kate Moss appears in this series of her works.

The “Fashion of Helmut Newton and Bettina Rheims” photography exhibition offers free entry and will be on display at The Art Gallery of NSW until 19 May 2012. For more information click here.

Bettina Rheims "Modern Lovers" series, showing at The Art Gallery of NSW

Bettina Rheims "Modern Lovers" series, showing at The Art Gallery of NSW

Recommended reference: Frames from the Edge. Helmut Newton. A Film by Adrian Maben.

ArtHaus's art documentary on Helmut Newton provides an intimate insight into the photographer’s life and work and how others perceived it. Famous personalities such as designer Karl Lagerfeld and actresses Catherine Deneuve and Sigourney Weaver recount their experience working with one of the most prolific photographers of the 20th century. To purchase this DVD, click here.