Masters of Monochrome: Part I- Helmut Newton
“I am like a lot of people.One sits on the beach, or on a café terrace and one looks around,mostly at women. And if I have really nothing to do I start spinning a tale for myself which is one of the most pleasant ways of spending a half hour. This time of year is the best, there are very few people left on the beach. Somehow it happens that every season there is a woman that — last year there was one, she was German. I spun a tale around her. It was interesting. I never saw her face until the last day, but she had the most extraordinarily beautiful body. I knew she was German because she was reading a book, something like Learning French. Her body was just unbelievable but then I saw her face – Some guy picked her up the last day, which amused me too, and only then I saw her. She had the most uninteresting, the most boring face, with a fleeing chin. She wasn’t even ugly, had she been ugly it would have been more interesting. If you wanted to make love to her you would really have to put a bag over her head. To me this is all very European, I don’t spin this kind of tale in America.” – Helmut Newton in an interview with Frank Horvat, Monte Carlo, October 1986
Helmut Neustädter (October 31, 1920 – January 23, 2004) was born in Berlin to a German-Jewish factory owner and an American mother. Due to a passion for photography which started as early as twelve, he dropped out of school at 16 to pursue an apprenticeship with the German photographer Yva (Elsie Neulander Simon).
The increasingly oppressive Nazi regime took control of his father’s button factory, and his father was briefly interned in a concentration camp. By the advent of ‘Kristallnacht’ the family was compelled to leave Germany; Neustädter’s parents fled to Chile, and he himself left Germany in December 1938. At Trieste he boarded the ‘Conte Rosso’ (along with about 200 other civilians escaping the Nazis) intending to journey to China, but on his arrival in Singapore he took a reporting job for the Straits Times and began working as a portrait photographer.
Unfortunately, once German hostilities progressed Neustädter found himself interned by the British authorities in Singapore; he was sent to Australia on board the Queen Mary, arriving in Sydney in September 1940 where he spent the next two years in the Tatura internment camp. On his release in 1942 he briefly worked as a fruit picker in northern Victoria, but soon enlisted with the Australian Army and worked as a truck driver for the remainder of the war.
Helmut Neustädter became an Australian citizen in 1945 and the following year he changed his name to Helmut Newton. Opening a studio in Melbourne’s fashionable Flinders Lane, he began working in fashion and theater photography through the affluent early post-war years: in 1948 he married actress June Browne who later became a successful photographer in her own rights under the pseudonym Alice Springs (after Alice Springs, the central Australian town). Newton shared his first joint exhibition in May 1953 with Wolfgang Sievers, a fellow German refugee. The exhibition of ‘New Visions in Photography’ was displayed at the Federal Hotel in Collins Street and was probably the first glimpse of the ‘New Objectivity’ photography movement in Australia.
Newton later went into partnership with Henry Talbot, another German Jew who had also been interned at Tatura, and his association with Talbot continued even after he left Australia for London.
In January 1956 Newton’s growing reputation as a fashion photographer secured him a commission for a special Australian supplement of the British Vogue magazine. He left for London in February 1957 on a 12-month contract, but he wound up breaking it when he was sternly informed by the editor -after taking a model onto the streets during an early assignment- that “… ladies, Helmut, do not lean against lampposts.”
He immediately went to Paris where he began working for French and German magazines, but returned to Melbourne in March 1959 with a new contract from the Australian offices of Vogue.
Newton returned to Paris in 1961 and continued work as a fashion photographer. His shots appeared regularly in magazines including French Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and by now he had established a particular style marked by erotic stylized scenes, often using sado-masochistic and fetishistic subtexts.
In 1970 at the age of 50 he suffered a heart attack which significantly slowed his work, but his notoriety continued to increase; most notably with his 1980 “Big Nudes” series, which marked the pinnacle of his erotic-urban style. But Newton also had a growing reputation for his portraiture, and was becoming highly sought after by the elite of the era.
|Newton and Benedict Taschen with
one of the first copies of Sumo, 1999
Newton shot a number of pictorials for Playboy including sets of Nastassja Kinski and Kristine DeBell. Original prints of the photographs from his August 1976 pictorial of DeBell, “200 Motels, or How I Spent My Summer Vacation” were sold at auctions of Playboy archives by Bonhams in 2002 for $21,075, and another set by Christies in December 2003 for $26,290. All Newton’s exhibitions were curated by his wife June; she also edited his books, including: White Women (1976), Sleepless Nights (1978), Big Nudes (1978), World Without Men (1984) and the massive Sumo (1999), a 464 page book which left the press at 20 x 27.5 inches and weighs some 66lbs. Sumo was published in a signed, limited edition of 10,000 copies and included its own custom designed coffee table in the package: the original publishing price was £625 and copies are currently selling at £9000 (app. $14,515 USD)
Below: “200 Motels, or How I Spent My Summer Vacation“, Kristine DeBell, Playboy Magazine, August 1976
In his later life Helmut Newton lived between Monte Carlo and his “Chateau Marmont” in Los Angeles, California. Celebrating 51 years of marriage in 1999, their joint exhibition and book, Us And Them, included Alice’s photo of him wearing nothing but black stockings and his personal portrait of her lying on a hospital bed following a major operation, wearing a catheter and a huge metal zipper running up her stomach.
On January 23, 2004 his car accelerated out of control and hit a wall in the driveway of Chateau Marmont. Helmut Newton died at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. His ashes are buried next to Marlene Dietrich at the Städtischer Friedhof III in Berlin.
Newton was fond of his hometown of Berlin, and in October 2003 he donated an extensive photo collection to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, establishing the Helmut Newton Foundation. The foundation’s mission is the conservation, protection and presentation of the oeuvre of Helmut Newton and Alice Springs.
Frank Horvat Interview with Helmut Newton
The Helmut Newton Foundation
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