Helmut Newton is one of the most controversial figures of world photography. The passion for photography manifests itself early, so much so that at the age of twelve Helmut himself buys his first camera and starting in 1936 he began working with the German photographer Elsie Neulander Simon, specializing in fashion, portraits and nudes.
In 1938 he was forced to emigrate because of the Nazi racial laws, then lived in Monte Carlo, Los Angeles and Paris where he settled in 1961 to pursue a career as a professional photographer. He had his first successes shooting for Vogue in the ’50s, later becoming one of the most important photographers of all time.
A controversial photographer
There are many different opinions about Helmut Newton: for someone he is a genius who has elevated fashion photography to art, for others, however, a misogynist whose photographs have exceeded the limits of acceptability. He himself was aware of the controversial judgments he attracted and on that bad boy image he built his character.
“One must always live up to one’s bad reputation.”
His was a brilliant career, constantly accompanied by a taste for provocation, a natural propensity for excess and, if you like, voyeurism, typical of those who came into contact with realities that were anything but ordinary, which helped to fuel a real passion for transgression, masterfully conveyed through his shots.
“The desire to discover, the desire to excite, the taste to capture, three concepts that summarize the art of photography.”
Newton’s fame explodes at the end of the ’60s: his models are strong and muscular and the scenarios represented reflect his most intimate obsessions, creating an ambiguous eroticism with images of absolute black and white. With Newton the naked body becomes the new dress to wear. His images end up distorting a scene that still tends to be moralistic, but at the same time, riding the revolutionary spirit and non-conformist typical of the time. The result is an unprecedented success that led him to become the most discussed and sought after photographer of those years. Magazines such as Vogue or Vanity Fair contend the presence and the most prominent characters of the period end up in front of his lens
The legacy of Helmut Newton
Nowadays Newton’s photography is certainly no longer considered transgressive, partly because times have changed, partly because of his contribution. Helmut Newton had understood that the more ambiguous his works were, the more they were able to disorient the observer and the more they would remain impressed in the collective imagination. Newton’s photography, therefore, challenges conventions, caresses transgression but always with great style and elegance. With a perfect technical mastery, a skilful use of shadows and contrasts and an unfailing ambiguity, Newton’s shots offer a certainty: they are impossible to ignore.
Mariachiara Proietti Di Fulvio