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Lucire 2012
Bergstrom over Paris, 1976.

A new take on Newton

Lola Saab attends the Helmut Newton exhibition at the Grand Palais in Paris, the first retrospective held in the city since the photographer’s unexpected death in 2004

 


Photography copyright © Helmut Newton; poster copyright © Affiche Reunion

Rue Aubriot, Paris, 1975, for Vogue Paris


Sie Kommen, Paris, 1981
 
Catherine Deneuve, 1976


Salvador Dali, Figueras, Spain, 1986, published in Vanity Fair

 

There are those who are photogenic and others whose blaze of beauty sparks better, away from a camera’s flashing light. The truly talented photographer has a skill of making anything and anyone look intriguing.

The famous Helmut Neustädter (later known as Newton), once said, ‘Any photographer who says he is not a voyeur is either stupid or a liar’—outlining the humorous approach that he had taken.

France might have recently been busy for the elections but the French capital was undoubtedly in for a treat on March 24 when they welcomed the ‘voyeur’s’ works of art to be viewed for a limited time, until June 17. The southeast gallery located in the Grand Palais through the Winston Churchill Avenue entrance captured fashionably artistic features that were once only seen through the eyes of the legendary photographer. The exhibition invites visitors to step into Newton’s universe behind the majestic Grand Palais doors. June, Newton’s wife of sixty years, was a curator of the exhibition along with Jérôme Neutres.

‘My job as a portrait photographer is to seduce, amuse and entertain,’ said Newton once. Through his work, he allows onlookers to discover stunning and natural beauty. ‘Nothing has been retouched, nothing electronically altered, I photographed what I saw.’ He took pictures of the men of fashion, the fashionable women who revealed extreme power and supremacy, and simple figures that he was able to transform into pieces of absolute sophistication.

The German–Australian photographer was born in Berlin on October 31, 1920. It was in 1932 that the young Newton would buy his first camera, propelling him toward his successful career of high-end photography. Much of the famous photographer’s work was taken in France. He also shot for a wide range of importantly famed fashion magazines, including Marie-Claire, Elle and Vogue.

As visitors walk through the exhibition’s large space, they notice surrounding walls closely embraced by his artistic works of art. By admiring the images which contain seductive, simple and classy looks, with both femininity and sexuality disclosed, spectators begin to understand to what extent his work would be considered exceptional. Although we call his work ‘art’, that may as well be an inappropriate word to use since Newton himself considered it to be an understatement. ‘Some people’s photography is an art. Not mine. Art is a dirty word in photography. All this dirty art crap is killing it already.’

continued below


Photography copyright © Helmut Newton; poster copyright © Affiche Reunion

Rue Aubriot, Paris, 1975, for Vogue Paris

 

Newton died in 2004, leaving behind a collection of classic photographs for people to enjoy and admire. Since the talented artist’s death, this is the first retrospective in France, leaving visitors yearning for more as they exit and continue to ponder upon his everlasting work.

There are more than 200 photos on display. A number included images of famous faces from Catherine Deneuve, Yves Saint Laurent, Pierre Cardin, Andy Warhol, Margaret Thatcher, HSH Princess Caroline of Monaco, HSH Prince Albert of Monaco and Elizabeth Taylor. It comes as no coincidence that Newton chose powerfully influential female celebrities to strike a pose for him; the idea of feminine strength is an attribute that persists throughout his work.

Newton has the capacity to take even an elegant Walter Steiger shoe on a woman’s foot and alter it into a stylishly chic look through his fine photography. He had an eye for fashion and he was able to share such an imagination with the world through his stills.

Many images rouse a flare of wit and a gleam of highly fashionable elements. One of the many photographs that caught the eye was of a huge portrait of four women entitled Sie Kommen (They’re Coming). The women are elegantly dressed in attractive garments revealing their expensive taste and their powerful gestures; once the viewer turns their head slightly to the right they find the same women in the same poses but in the nude with only their high heels and chic hairdos to show off. The two extremes expose feminine appeal and authority. Images of models in the nude recur, confirming the model’s utter confidence and the photographer’s wild imagination.

Seduction and flirtatiousness are visible through each angle. In the late 1960s, Yves Saint Laurent was considered a designer who empowered women by providing them with ensembles and outfits that were normally worn by the opposite sex—it was his approach to liberate women. It was Newton’s intention to do the same by presenting the ‘Newtonian woman’.

In the middle of the spacious venue is a small and dark room reserved for a few people to watch a brief documentary of the photographer busy at work. Newton actively tells models how to stand and where to look, as though it has all been previously planned out: ‘… If she’s smart she can understand immediately.’

Newton’s talent is highlighted throughout the exhibition with both black-and-white as well as colour images that reveal female and male models showing off forceful character, charm, charisma, class and, of course, a flawless, fashionable appeal. The photographs evoke a thousand words as they spectacularly come face to face with observers. •

 


© Helmut Newton Estate

In Elle, 1968
 
In Paris, 1978, for Vogue Paris

By admiring the images which contain seductive, simple and classy looks with both femininity and sexuality disclosed, spectators begin to understand to what extent his work would be considered exceptional

 

 

 

 


Lola Saab is Paris editor of Lucire.

 

 

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