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Helmut Newton Photo

Helmut Newton

American Photographer

Born: October 31, 1920 - Berlin, Germany
Died: January 23, 2004 - Los Angeles, United States
Movements and Styles:
Fashion Photography
"I hate good taste. It's the worst thing that can happen to a creative person."
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Helmut Newton Signature
"The desire to discover, the desire to move, to capture the flavor, three concepts that describe the art of photography."
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Helmut Newton Signature
"To have taboos, then to get around them that is interesting."
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"The term 'political correctness' has always appalled me, reminding me of Orwell's 'Thought Police' and fascist regimes."
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"Some people`s photography is an art. Mine is not. If they happen to be exhibited in a gallery or a museum, that`s fine. But that`s not why I do them. I`m a gun for hire."
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"If a photographer says he is not a voyeur, he is an idiot."
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"He used his fashion photographer's eye to make the erotic almost surrealistic which didn't always mix well with the demeanour of the typical Playmate."
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Hugh Heffner from Playboy: Helmut Newton (2005)

Summary of Helmut Newton

Dubbed the King of Kink, Helmut Newton, one of the great photographers of the twentieth century, radicalized fashion photography by redefining the way women were portrayed in advertising for haute couture. Newton paved the way for fashion photography to become more provocative, and more daring. Incorporating complex themes of sexuality and desire into his work, he showed that fashion photography did not have to be banal and safe, but had the scope to explore the human condition in all its depth.


  • Newton took fashion photography out of the studio and into the vitality of the street, bringing to his work the immediacy and dynamism of the paparazzi. "A woman does not live in front of a white paper" he said, in reference to the studio, "she lives on the street, in a motor car, in a hotel room." By bringing a journalistic element into his photography, he infused his photographs with human interest.
  • Newton expressed through photography the idea that women's sexuality could give them power. The women he portrays are independent, and in command. He encourages the viewer to question the sexual objectification of women by forcing them to confront their own voyeuristic gaze.
  • Newton borrowed from cinema, erotica, journalism, and art, giving no credence to the distinction between high and low brow art forms, a theme shared by many modern artists. What makes Newton's contribution unique is bringing these influences to fashion advertising.
  • Newton's admiration for the cinema, particularly Film Noir, is evident in his preference for black and white film, seductive women, and mysterious narrative elements. He utilises elaborate sets, highly posed scenes, and of course, glamorous attire, but at the heart of the photographs, these are always in service of conveying human emotion.

Biography of Helmut Newton

Helmut Newton Photo

Helmut Newton was born Helmut Neustädter in Berlin on October 31, 1920 to Max Neustädter, a wealthy button manufacturer, and mother Klara (nee Marquis). Klara was a widow with a son, Hans, when she married Max, a soldier from Silesia who took over the running of the button factory left behind by her late husband.

Important Art by Helmut Newton

Progression of Art

Fashion shoot for Australian Wool Board, Melbourne, Australia

This photograph, taken for American vogue in the late 1950s, shows Australian super model Janice Wakely wearing a black top, matching checked woollen skirt and handbag, and goggles around her neck. She is standing, leaning out of an open top car, driving down a city street with an outstretched arm clutching her handbag. The model's face and posture are entirely calm and composed, in contrast to the busy street behind her. Her comfortable, yet stylish clothes, combined with her commanding pose, suggest freedom and independence, anticipating the sexual revolution and women's rights movements of the 1960s.

Part of his outdoor series depicting the 'modern woman', this image brings fashion photography out of the studio and onto the street, perfectly characterizing the irreverent style that would come to be Newton's signature.


How to Make the Fur Fly, British Vogue, London

This photograph, taken for British Vogue in 1967, shows another super model, Willy Van Rooy, running down an aircraft runway towards the camera, with a shocked expression on her face, as a low flying plane follows close behind her. She wears white GoGo boots, a fur coat, black leather gloves and a woollen hat. Helmut had a keen eye for beautiful women, and this wasn't the first time he had worked with Willy Van Rooy, having previously shot her for French Elle and French Vogue.

The photograph was part of an eight-page spread in the magazine wearing Revillon Frères furs under the heading "How to Make the Fur Fly". Inspired by the Alfred Hitchcock movie, North by Northwest (1959), Helmut Newton notes in his autobiography that his wife June came up with the idea as he was having creative block in the days leading up to the shoot, suggesting he "do a Hitchcock".

This is an important early example of the storytelling quality in his fashion photography, as well as his willingness to take risks. The shoot was dicey as not only did Newton have to find a pilot at short notice, the model had to run out in front of the plane at the last possible moment in order to capture both in the same shot. The phrase 'make the fur fly' meaning to 'create an uproar' suggests the affect of Newton's photography on the conservative and artificial world of fashion, figuratively making furs fly on the fashion runway as much as literally on the aircraft runway in this photograph.


Elsa Peretti in Halston Bunny Costume, New York

A cliché in any other hands, this iconic portrait shows Elsa Peretti, model and later jewellery designer, posing for French Vogue in a Halston bunny costume on the roof of her apartment building in New York.

Inspired by his Playboy experience, which allowed him to freely explore the eroticism and sensuality of the female body, this photograph takes a private night-time fantasy world and brings it into broad daylight. The backdrop of the metropolis with stacks of windows ascending high rise buildings, hints at the hidden voyeurism present in conservative city life.

Helmut Newton considered this to be a photograph that epitomised the 1970s; blending the two worlds of erotic and fashion photography, Newton represents the coming out into the open of his exploration of sexuality as the grip of traditional moral values loosened following the sexual liberation of the 1960s.


Yves Saint Laurent, Rue Aubriot, French Vogue

This photograph, taken for Vogue in 1975, shows a woman standing alone in a dimly lit street holding a cigarette, her hair slicked back in the style of a gigolo. The tuxedo, known as "Le Smoking", was designed by Yves Saint Laurent and first shown as part of his "Pop Art" collection in 1966, almost a decade before this iconic photograph was taken. The suit sparked controversy at the time as people were still not used to seeing women in trousers.

Using the street where he once lived in Paris as the backdrop, Helmut Newton emphasises the model's androgyny with her masculine stance, cigarette and no make up. The eroticism of the image comes from this play on expectations, rather than the display of flesh.

It is an important example of Newton's subversive celebration of independent women; women who have the choice and freedom to live their lives on their own terms. Le Smoking went on to be worn by icons of style from the 1960s onwards, including Catherine Deneuve, Liza Minelli, Lauren Bacall and Bianca Jagger. As art critic Lindsay Baker put it, "Together, Newton and Saint Laurent created a moment in fashion history."


Saddle I, Hermes, Adam

Helmut Newton took this photograph at the height of second wave feminism for Hermes fashion house and a men's magazine called Adam, published by Vogue. It shows a woman on all fours on a bed wearing a bra, jodhpurs, and riding boots, with a leather saddle on her back. The lighting is reminiscent of the black and white film noir genre, popular in Berlin in the 1930s. This image, perhaps more than any other, is an example of the blend of sexual subversion and high fashion that Newton was confidently bringing to his photography throughout the 1970s.

Having spent an afternoon in Hermes selecting whips and saddles, Helmut took a series of photographs including one with a woman riding another woman, and a woman with a whip in her mouth, as well as the one shown above.

This photograph with the model wearing a saddle is probably the most infamous of the series. Mr. Hermes is said to have been horrified when he saw what Helmut had done. But then, as Helmut observed, "A lot of advertisers have fits when they see what I do with their products."

Mr. Hermes was not the only one to be upset by the image, feminists criticized the image for being pornographic and misogynistic. Yet the image dares the viewer to question their own reaction. As one critic observed, "Is she servile or being served?"

The reminder that it is advertising, challenges us to consider broader questions about the fashion industry and the way luxury commodities are sold. On the one hand, this photograph can be read as objectifying women, on the other, he is simply doing more blatantly what fashion does to women anyway. It could therefore be read as a critique of fashion magazines that turn the women into passive commodities just like the clothes they are wearing.

Although not his intention, it is clear why some feminists have taken exception to this "playful subversion", but overall, fashion photography in our modern world has come to mimic his decadent and voyeuristic celebration of sexuality. Whether modern fashion photography draws on his style, or whether he anticipated future trends, the exploitation of sexuality to sell commodities has only grown in the time that has passed. However, what is clear and special is that the shock that is still felt viewing this photograph today does not allow us to simply passively consume the image, but forces us to have a more critical reading.


Two pairs of legs in black stockings, Paris

This photograph is from Newton's Private Property Suites, a portfolio of three suites containing 45 photographs taken between 1972 and 1983, published in 1984. Continuing his exploration of the limits of media acceptance at a time when the feminist movement had already had a decade to ferment, Helmut draws us back into the uncertainty of sexual power. Two women in stockings, underwear, and black patent heels stand in front of a man in a suit, looking back at them.

In this photograph the "male gaze" is turned back on itself, as we see the face of the man looking, but we only see the backs of the legs of the women being gazed upon.

Described as an example of porno-chic, Helmut succeeds in capturing a scene, sordid in its immediacy, with erotic glamour. The use of black and white photography with its devotion to highlighting contrasts is used to enhance the unattainable fantasy of the scene, and the upward tilted angle heightens the sense of power exercised by the female models.


David Lynch and Isabella Rossellini

As his fame grew Newton began taking portraits of people who fascinated him among the rich and famous. In this double portrait of David Lynch and Isabella Rossellini (Ingrid Bergman's daughter and star of Lynch's film Blue Velvet), we see Newton's mastery in encapsulating the intense sexual energy between the two sitters.

The sensuality and underlying eroticism present in the photograph make one feel uncomfortably close, forcing the viewer to become aware of their position as voyeur. The lighting is once again reminiscent of film noir, an important trope in Newton's work, and the suspense in the photograph is also evocative of the genre.

The ambiguity in the sitter's postures holds us in anticipation, as a myriad of different narratives come to mind. Lynch's gaze is at once admiring and possessive, his hand clutching her neck gentle, yet suggestive of power, while Isabella's head is tilted backwards in an ecstatic and trance-like state of pleasure. As she said, "what ultimately makes a great photograph is the emotion that comes across."


Margaret Thatcher, Vanity Fair

"Only one woman scared me," said Helmut Newton, speaking of his portrait of the "Iron Lady", Margaret Thatcher. She refused to pose for a photograph without a smile to avoid the risk of looking disagreeable. This portrait, which is part of the collection at the National Portrait Gallery in London, is one which Margaret Thatcher is said to have told Newton she hated.

Helmut had wanted to photograph Margaret Thatcher for a number of years. The blend of power, domination, and female sexuality is a key element in much of Newton's work, therefore Thatcher was a natural choice for a subject. He finally got a sitting with her in Los Angeles, for a Vanity Fair commission, during her first lecture tour after leaving office. Apparently, the wilted roses Helmut bought for her did nothing to endear him to her.

Despite his fame as a world-renowned photographer, she only gave him a few minutes for the sitting, but within that short time Helmut was able to capture both her indomitable power and determination, and the exquisite femininity of a woman who had been one of the most powerful leaders in the world. Of Margaret Thatcher, he said, "As she became more successful and more powerful, she seemed to me to become even sexy."


X-Ray, Van Cleef & Arpels, French Vogue

An example of his continuing ability to shock the world of fashion, Helmut Newton produced a series of "X-Ray" images, commissioned by Anna Wintour for the "High and Mighty" spread in Vogue's issue of February 1995. Although they were criticized for being offensive, she recalls his work as being "synonymous with Vogue at its most glamorous and mythic."

The X-Ray photograph shows a foot in a high heeled shoe by Karl Lagerfeld and a Cartier bracelet. It was photographed in Monte Carlo, where the Newtons were living at the time.

Newton loved high heels, he said of his fetish, "When I see a woman, I always immediately look at her shoes and hope they're high - because high heels make a woman look sexy and dangerous."

Considered witty, Helmut claimed the images were not intended to amuse. Rather, he took the models wearing expensive jewellery to a radiologist in order to see what was going on beneath the flesh. Despite upsetting designers, so much so that Bulgari threatened to cancel its advertising contract with French Vogue after seeing one of the hands wearing Bulgari jewellery, it accords with Newton's belief that "the perfect fashion photograph is a photograph that does not look like a fashion photograph."


Jean-Marie Le Pen with Dobermans, New Yorker

This infamous portrait of Jean-Marie Le Pen, former president of fascist political organisation The National Front in France, shows Le Pen at home with his Dobermans. The composition is reminiscent of a portrait of Adolf Hitler with his German Sheperd taken by his official photographer Heinrich Hoffman. Whether this was intentional, Newton never revealed. Le Pen doesn't see the connection and, of allegations that the portrait ridiculed him, Le Pen said, "If he had ridiculed me, he should have been ashamed, not me."

Taken in Le Pen's residence in Saint-Cloud, Paris, it is debated whether Le Pen liked the picture, although Le Pen had fond memories of the visit; Helmut and Le Pen apparently got on famously. Helmut would later on recall, "I like photographing the people I love, the people I admire, the famous, and especially the infamous."

Le Pen was not the first notorious fascist figure Newton photographed, he had previously made portraits of Leni Riefenstahl - Hitler's official film maker - and the UN Secretary General Kurt Waldenheim, who was involved in Nazi atrocities. This photograph reveals the ambivalence with which he views the personality of his sitters. Defending his decision to photograph Le Pen, he said that he considered himself "only a witness not a judge".

Though Newton's heritage is Jewish, his family, like many German-Jewish families at the time, were largely secular and did not observe Jewish holidays or rituals (of course, this didn't stop many from going to the Nazi death chambers). Other than these portraits he never seemed to reflect much on his Jewish origins, choosing instead to move on, saying, "I find this kind of living in the past useless and unproductive."

Influences and Connections

Influences on Artist
Helmut Newton
Influenced by Artist
Friends & Personal Connections
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    Francine Crescent
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    Hugh Heffner
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    Anna Wintour
Movements & Ideas
Friends & Personal Connections
  • David Lynch
    David Lynch
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    Yves Saint Laurent
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    Karl Lagerfeld
Movements & Ideas
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    20th Century Fashion Photography
Open Influences
Close Influences

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Content compiled and written by Zaid S Sethi

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

"Helmut Newton Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Zaid S Sethi
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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First published on 18 Aug 2018. Updated and modified regularly
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