If you followed our advice and picked Venice as you incentive travel destination for this year, here’s something you should not miss. The exhibition Helmut Newton: White Woman/Sleepless Nights/Big Nudes opened on April 7h and it will run until August 7th at La Casa dei Tre Oci. The project was originally created by June Newton, the widow of the celebrated german photographer whose work played a big part in the shaping of the XX century ideas of fashion and beauty. The photographs are part of an impressive collection, comprising photographs that were present in three books which Helmut Newton curated personally in the 70s, collating shots that he had taken for his own artistic production and others that had been commissioned. Those books were the only ones that the photographer curated in person and they were instrumental in establishing him as an immortal icon of contemporary photography. They were, in a sense, Newton’s manifesto: he was telling a story, and laying the foundation for his subsequent aesthetic research.
Newton was a pioneer of nude and erotic photography, which had never been a part of fashion photography before. Newton’s vision created a new landscape, in which the human body was set at the centre of the fashion universe, so much so that fashion can be presented through nude bodies. Many, of course, have followed in his wake. This book was published in 1976 and comprised 81 shots, mostly female nudes. These shots reveal much of Newton’s artistic influences and it would be hard not to be reminded of Goya’s Maya Desnuda and Maya Vestida.
My job as a portrait photographer is to seduce, amuse and entertain.
This section of the exhibition features a series of photographs that first appeared on Vogue and a number of other fashion magazines. There is an undeniable fetish vibe to this chapter of Newton’s work, embodied by models of enigmatic beauty, clad in corsets and embracing dummies. Leather implements, such as saddles, often feature in this section too. This book, published in 1978, blurred the line between fashion photography and portrait photography, with a dark twist. The 69 shots in this section explore a few unusual corners of human desire, relating to objectification and lifelessness, all still in the context of fashion photography. This book and the corresponding section of the Venice exhibition are a perfect example of Newton’s unique ability of using what was by all intents and purposes “commercial” photography to channel his own personal message.
What I find interesting is working in a society with certain taboos – and fashion photography is about that kind of society. To have taboos, then to get around them – that is interesting.
This section’s title is fairly self-explanatory and it most definitely does what it says on the tin. The original inspiration for these photographs is to be found in a series of posters of wanted RAF terrorists put up by the german police in the late 70s and early 80s, more or less at the same time as Newton’s corresponding book was published (1981). The genesis of the project was only explained by Newton in his 2004 autobiography, but its historical importance had not gone unnoticed in at the time of the original release. Not only Newton was taking part in the historical debate on modernity and art, but he was also dictating the new trends in art and photography, to the extent that blown up portraits started popping up in galleries all over the world after his Big Nudes were first unveiled.
It was not until 1980 that I photographed what I consider to be my first nude. In quick succession I executed the Big Nudes, the Naked and Dressed, and, in Los Angeles, the Domestic Nudes series. The fact that the models in these photographs were the same girls I used in my fashion work gave them a certain elegance and coolness that I was looking for in my work.
A German jew, forced out of his Country by the racial laws imposed by the Nazi regime in 1938, he fled to Singapore and then Australia and fought with the Australian army in the second world war. He had been experimenting with photography from an early age (probably as young as 12), but it was after moving to Paris in 1961 that his work as a photographer first obtained some degree of recognition. It was not long before his well-deserved fame made him the most celebrated and sought-after fashion photographer of his time, working for magazines such as Vogue, Vanity Fair and Elle.