White Women • Sleepless Nights • Big Nudes
Helmut Newton Foundation, Photography, Berlin, Germany
Saturday June 2, 2012 - Sunday November 18, 2012 - Event ended.
Originally conceived for and presented at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the current exhibition at the Helmut Newton Foundation is dedicated to Newton’s first three legendary publications. The motifs published in the books have been transformed into exhibition prints. During Newton’s lifetime, these photographs bordering between fashion and nude photography were never displayed together.
Certain photographs in this exhibition may not be suitable for all visitors.
His first photography book, White Women, was published when Newton was already 56 years old, in 1976. The book received the Kodak Photobook Award shortly thereafter and has enjoyed numerous reprints ever since. In White Women, Newton used nudity within the visual world of fashion. While such unusual pictures both astonished and provoked the scene, above all, they revolutionized fashion photography. Furthermore, Newton’s photographs both reflect and comment on the transformation of the role of women in western society at the time. Inevitably, Newton makes us observers into voyeurs.
Originally conceived by June Newton, the artist’s widow, Helmut Newton is organized by Manfred Heiting, an Amsterdam-based collector and friend of the Newtons, with Anne Tucker, the MFAH’s Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography. “Helmut Newton’s images moved beyond the accepted standard of how females could be portrayed, and many women found their own sexuality empowered by his work,” said Tucker. “His distinct, risqué photographs present what were, arguably, the world’s most beautiful models in a range of personalities.”
“I always wanted to show the man behind the camera, and I believe this exhibition succeeds perfectly,” said Heiting.
The prints that will be displayed in Helmut Newton: White Women • Sleepless Nights • Big Nudes were made specifically for the exhibition and are large-scale—some reaching nearly 8 x 8 feet. All the works are taken from Newton’s first three books, published over the course of six years (1976–82), which established him as the definitive modern photographer of women.
Just as perfectly arranged were the black and white and color photographs in Newton’s 1978 book Sleepless Nights. Previously published in various magazines, these were also all about women, their bodies and their clothes; fashion shots that are simultaneously portraits, or which could double as crime scene documentation photos. Here for the first time are also three smaller series, which would later be counted among Newton’s iconic images: half-naked, female models in orthopedic body braces or wearing leather saddles by Hermès, as well as the so-called “dummies.” His second publication Sleepless Nights also features mannequins that are mostly in amorous combination with a person. For Helmut Newton, fashion often seems to be an excuse to realize something different and very individual.
At the latest with his third publication Big Nudes, Helmut Newton had secured his seat atop the Mount Olympus of photography. Since its first publication in 1981, the book has been reprinted thousands of times, by several publishing houses and in multiple languages. Soon after their creation, the monumental pictures were shown in various museums; with his Big Nudes and the subsequent life-sized images from his Naked and Dressed series, Newton had opened up a new dimension of the photographic human image.
About Helmut Newton
Born Helmut Neustädterin 1920 to a well-to-do Berlin family and interested in photography early on, Newton purchased his first camera at 12 and as a teenager apprenticed with noted German theatrical photographer Yva (Else Simon, who later perished at Auschwitz). The passing of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws in 1935 drastically worsened his family’s situation, however, as his father lost control of his factory and was briefly interned in a concentration camp. The Kristallnacht attacks of November 1938 forced Newton’s parents to flee to Chile; the 18-year-old Newton traveled alone to Singapore.
In the fall of 1940 Newton’s life took another radical turn: he was interned by British authorities as an “enemy alien,” shipped to Australia, and placed in a camp from 1940 to 1942. He was released to serve in the Australian Army until the end of the war, gaining Australian citizenship in 1945 and changing his name to Newton. Finally a free agent, he opened a photography studio in Melbourne and met his wife, June Browne, an actress who posed for him. She went on to play an integral role in Newton’s career: she modeled for him, curated his exhibitions, and edited his books (including the three publications the MFAH exhibition is based on). She also became a photographer herself, shooting under the pseudonym Alice Springs.
The couple traveled Europe and Australia during the 1950s, when Newton shot for British and Australian Vogue, and settled in 1961 in Paris, where Newton joined French Vogue. As American Vogue editor Anna Wintour states in the exhibition catalogue, Newton’s work went on to be “synonymous with Vogue at its most glamorous and mythic.” With top photographers Horst P. Horst, Irving Penn, Herb Ritts, and Richard Avedon, Newton transformed fashion photography from a mere photographic report of current styles to an alluring presentation with mis-en-scene and a narrative. In addition to his magazine work, Newton was also much sought-after for commissions by a variety of institutions, from fashion houses and jewelry designers to car manufacturers. In many cases, Newton would be on a professional shoot and adjust the shots to become more sexually suggestive, adding these second “takes” to his personal body of work.
By the end of his life Newton had received many awards, including the Grand Prix National de la Ville de Paris and Commander in the Order of Arts and Letters. In 2000, the Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin, held a major retrospective for Newton on the occasion of his 80th birthday—also organized by Heiting—and the show traveled to London, New York, Tokyo, Moscow, and Prague, and other cities. Three years later, in 2003, the Helmut Newton Foundation was established in Berlin. At the height of his success, the artist and his wife lived in Monte Carlo but wintered in Hollywood at the famed Chateau Marmont Hotel.
Newton died in January 2004 at 83. His final magazine spread was published posthumously in the March 2004 edition of Vogue.