Committing heresy: I (mostly) hate Helmut Newton

21 Nov

Are you following my new instagram? 😉

I first came across Helmut Newton’s work when I was about eight. I was having a chocolate brownie with my mum and her friend in a Covent Garden cafe, and the smallish framed pictures on the walls featuring tall busty women in, if my memory is still working, wet t-shirt contests, all bore dates and the words “Helmut Newton”. The women looked so similar I assumed it was one model and that was her name. At age eight, I also thought that a wet t-shirt contest was about who could get their t-shirt the wettest…

Three thoughts I have about Helmut Newton.
1) He looks like Robert De Niro if you ironed him.
200px-helmut_newton_grave_headshot_crop robert-de-niro4.jpg
2) His life is fascinating- I don’t hate the man, just most of his pictures…
3) … which are an eclectic mishmash of spectacular and bloody hideous.

Over a decade after that sighting, I was working as a professional model and finding that Mr Newton is the untouchable pinnacle of fetish and erotic creative achievement according to many people I worked with and spoke to online. Bob Carlos Clarke is another (I adore his work but suspect I wouldn’t have got on with him.) In the same way Joe Public thinks of Kate Moss first and foremost when discussing modelling, Helmut Newton’s name is synonymous with many genres that make up my workload. I can’t get away from the man! More specifically, the phrase “Helmut Newton style”.

These images are by Helmut Newton.

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If you would like to book me for a femme fatale, glamourous nude or lingerie shoot in a gorgeous hotel or any other location with perfect hair and make-up, in black and white then please, oh please do! I love the first three images below!
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Charlotte Rampling
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Daryl Hannah
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POMELLATO-1982-H.jpg

I don’t love these ones…

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And don’t get me started on these.

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When somebody says “Helmut Newton style”, I have no idea whether they are thinking about nude models in five star hotels with stunning hair, make-up and old fashioned decadence….. or unflattering angles on an unmade bed, legs splayed, fellating a gun. Helmut Newton has several styles and they do not look like the same photographer! I can only imagine the horror for a new model expecting the former, being booked for the latter and realising that yes, Dr Jekyll is also Mr Hyde.

I understand that his images were risque for the time, that they were influencers, but it was easier to be edgy in the 70s. When I first started modelling, I thought a gothic shoot in a graveyard with Crow make-up and photoshopped bats was an amazing idea. Fortunately, I moved on. Yes, Newton’s work is historically significant- I’m not suggesting that he be confined to history’s dustbin, just suggesting that a name should not turn a bad photo into a good one.
If this picture wasn’t a “Newton”, what stops it from being very thin woman with ‘spade’ hands and her legs hanging open?
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If this wasn’t a Newton, why isn’t it just a cheesy, overacted, rather unflattering shot?
helmut_newton-lavazza-calendar-1994_02
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I think that one thing keeping his images from being thought of as trashy is his choice of models. Helmut mostly worked with extremely tall thin women with long limbs and fairly small breasts. Women with ‘fashion’ figures can often make almost anything look daring and edgy. There are poses that fashion models can pull off but make a curvier model look lurid and tacky. This is a prime example. The pose makes smaller breasts look bigger and most big (natural) breasts look like droopy udders.
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Charlotte Rampling, Daryl Hannah, Carla Bruni… his choice of model also happened to be particularly beautiful celebrities- of course his images will remain in the public eye as long as the subjects do! Would they still be considered timeless and iconic if he had exclusively picked pretty women from the local bar?
This isn’t just any woman looking bored, grabbing her tit- this is Catherine Deneuve looking bored, grabbing Catherine Deneuve’s tit.
catherine_deneuve__esquire__paris__1976_710398383_north_499x_white

In my opinion, Helmut Newton had some truly beautiful photos and some equally dire ones in a mostly cool-ish portfolio which was helped by his choice of subject and use of stark black and white (somehow it makes many photos look more ‘arty’.)
As a fetish model, I can appreciate his daring to try weird stuff and as I usually do my own hair and makeup, I find the glamourous styling makes its way onto several of my personal moodboards. I love his hotel shots and sometimes his framing is just perfect. It’s why I’ll gladly consider a Helmut Newton style shoot with you… but first I’ll ask “what style?” ;P

Doing it better…

I’ve actually wanted to write this blog for quite some time… and then the pieces fell into place when a forum post on Purpleport started up…  So I frantically mailed a few photographers I greatly admire who, in my opinion, do “Helmut Newton style” better than Helmut Newton.

John Tisbury
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Model: Vic

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Models: Katy Cee and Iveta (both retired from modelling)

Max Operandi
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Assisting Don McCrae

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Model: Your humble blogger. That’s me.

Jeremy
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Model: Ella Rose

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Model: Rosa Brighid

As I just realised I only have one image of me in an entire blog, here’s one of my all-time favourites, by Gregory Brown.
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Now, I’m sure one of you is going to tell me that many of the images above were heavily influenced by Newton. I know. I am very aware of this, but the fact is that Helmut Newton was also inspired by other people and somebody (can’t think who!) said that you can copy whatever you want but what matters is being better than the original. 😉

It’s okay to disagree with me- come and have a chat about it if you want! I’m just glad I got that off my chest. ;P

ROSWELL x

P.S. Here I am demonstrating how to correctly work with a cat. Take note, Helmut Newton- wherever you are in time and space!

Incorrect cat-handling.
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Correct cat-handling.
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Photo by Elena Isac.

19 Responses to “Committing heresy: I (mostly) hate Helmut Newton”

  1. Harry Smart November 21, 2016 at 2:02 am #

    Thank you. Puts into words a lot of stuff I have wondered about Helmut N .. from the other side of the dynamic .. and having spent a lot of time at art college wondering what the hell made a particular image ‘art’ and why the simple fact of it being in b/w rather than colour seemed to be the critical thing in many cases. And being pissed off when I shot what I thought was an interesting image only to be told ‘that’s very Helmut Newton’ .. And having my own discovery and coming to terms with a) my own sexuality and b) my desire to photograph women being so bound up with my discovery in a Glasgow bookshop of a copy of White Women when I was about 24 (and already married, and from a very, very conservative Christian background) and just being astonished / aroused / guiltbombed etc. all at the same time ..

    Different take on some specific images, but largely the ones you dislike of Newton’s are also ones that I dislike, and the question of ‘would it be a different pic if it wasn’t Charlotte R’ etc … and different take on some of the photographers images you’ve selected as comparison points .. quite a few of which are familiar. But so it should be.

    Gah. Well, just .. thank you for putting all this into words and for thoughtful selection of images.

    H (Gairm on PP, dA)

    • roswellivory November 23, 2016 at 9:01 pm #

      That’s really interesting hearing how your background made you react a certain way.

      And thankyou for the lovely comment! 😀

  2. John Tisbury November 21, 2016 at 10:23 am #

    An interesting and thought provoking article. You certainly chose the images well to get your point across. I like you, don’t find all of his work pleasing to the eye. This can be because of some technical aspect, or the pose, the scenario or the composition. I guess with a career spanning some 50 years you are going to take some bad shots. His style will also have changed and developed over that time so what may appear as an eclectic mix, is a snapshot covering 50 years or so.

    I remember reading his autobiography some time back. He stated that he started shooting nudes was because no-one was looking at this work. Stick a nude female in it and there’s a lot more interest. He obviously did some thing right, he launched his book SUMO as a limited edition of 10,000 copies in 1999, selling for $1,500 each, today they go for around $10,000. Plus you get a free stand to put the book on!

    He did much of his personal portfolio work with fashion models, they were obviously built for speed over comfort. A mobile meat hanger for the clothes of the fashion industry. There are some classic sets/themes that I love; Big Nudes being one of them. I also love some of the clothed and unclothed studio shots he did with multiple models.

    My work is often compared to Newton’s, I guess because it’s monochrome with contrasty lighting. I see that as a compliment. However, I do see where you are coming from and agree with your conclusions about shots in his portfolio that cover the good, the bad and the plain ugly.

    • roswellivory November 23, 2016 at 9:05 pm #

      Heya! Thankyou for the comment and for letting me use your pictures! I’m certainly interested in reading his autobiography as I think I’d have liked him personally even if I’m not feeling his work. 😀

      xx

  3. Brian Martin November 21, 2016 at 1:40 pm #

    I’m not sure it’s heresy. Some of his stuff you like, some you don’t. I’d say when folks talk about Helmut Newton style they mean the delicious black and white opulent power based images. Some of the other stuff is ho-hum.

    But let me see your heresy and raise you a bit – Cartier Bresson’s portraits suck! His streat stuff i really like, but his portraits of artists etc. are rather oddly composed in many instances.

    Move over and I’ll join you in the stocks.

    • roswellivory November 23, 2016 at 9:06 pm #

      Lol! I just had to google Cartier Bresson and had the same thing again- some of his stuff I thought was phenomenal… others? NAAAAAH…

  4. Kurt Krueger November 21, 2016 at 3:01 pm #

    All of your points regarding Helmut Newton have merit. However, I have to disagree with the Good Photo/Bad Photo comparison. To do that prevents an artist from experimentation. Towards the end of his career and life, Herr Newton himself had stated that he had pretty much done everything that he could do with nudes. Perhaps the images that you’re not fond of were his attempts at finding something new to work with.

    I, for one, place having a mixed and varied style high above those who keep doing the same style over and over until you’re sick of it. I try to mix it up as much as I can myself. However, sometimes to my chagrin, all of my photos end up looking like they were shot by me – no matter how hard I for them not to be.

    But the thing that I most admire about Helmut Newton’s “style” is the “in your face” starkness of all of his styles. Being of German descent myself, it strikes a chord in my psyche and I have always tried to incorporate that starkness into my own work. I’m not a fan of subtlety. Sometimes I fail. I could have pushed the concept further. I could have pushed the colors further. It could have had a dash more SPLASH!

    Anyway… just an observation of your observation.

    • roswellivory November 23, 2016 at 9:13 pm #

      Hiya! Thankyou for commenting! 🙂 That’s really interesting- I’ve seen a lot of commenters (here and on PP) whose opinions of Newton’s work have been influenced quite strongly by their own backrounds/psyche.

  5. xsimko November 21, 2016 at 9:19 pm #

    I agree with you. I can’t analyse, why Newton’s images are so repulsive to me. Maybe it’s all about that lifeless, decadent atmosphere which almost all of the 70-ies bear? You said about that “bored look”, and it’s true, it seems like characters represented by models are deeply disinterested in sexuality and the whole dimension of aesthetic feelings sexuality can create, instead they are focused all on themselves and their selves are empty shells, those feelings either a depression over the fact of the inner emptiness (like on the photo with the gun) or desperate trying to cover it with glitter and fetish. But it doesn’t come from the inside, it’s not true, it’s just a mask, so it can’t actually “fill” them. This all is pretty depressing, as for me, so I can’t “dig that Newton’s stuff”. =) Thanks for your post, it’s always nice to reach out of daily routine to the world of beauty and more sophisticated self-realization. Sorry about mistakes, haven’t been practicing English for a long time. Kind regards, Max.

    • roswellivory November 25, 2016 at 2:27 pm #

      Your English is great- no need to apologise! And thankyou for the comment- I’m also not a fan of the bored look- same as the 90s ‘heroin chic’ thing. It’s just not interesting! 🙂

  6. Michael A Robb November 22, 2016 at 9:09 pm #

    Roswell you have certainly made it very clear from reading this that Helmut Newton has both positive and negative footage in your opinion lass, well you will be please to know that my collection of photography books does not include any of his, yes i can see where your coming from with the shots you dislike, i myself could never photograph someone with something near or in their mouth and smoking well that is not going to set a good example is it.
    Hey that was good thinking on your account to get photographers you know to do something in his style, and can i just say i’m well impressed with the pictures they gave you lass, i see you mention a shoot in a gorgeous hotel is something you would consider doing, well that has got me thinking about the hotels in my neck of the woods, and finally who would have thought that great shot of you cuddling that cute pussy was going to be a purfect example for showing how you should really treat a cat.

    • roswellivory November 25, 2016 at 2:32 pm #

      Lol! Thankyou so much- and yes there are some gorgeous locations and hotels in your neck of the woods. I keep looking at certain Buzzfeed articles about amazing places to visit, and getting inspired!

  7. simonmriley November 23, 2016 at 8:45 pm #

    Surprisingly you’ve shown me some ghastly Helmut Newton images. And he does look like an ironed Robert DeNiro! Seems like he was just a mere mortal after all. Thanks :p

  8. Carlos David November 23, 2016 at 10:50 pm #

    Helmut was the first to admit that a lot of his work was crap but he loved the money, lifestyle and freedom that arose from his images being in demand. Look for his interviews on youtube.

    • roswellivory November 25, 2016 at 2:33 pm #

      I will- he was a fascinating man and I ‘collect’ interesting people. 😛

  9. Chris November 24, 2016 at 4:17 am #

    I would be inclined to see this post as a valid opinion about an artist, if your first line wasn’t a link about following your new IG, and your last line wasn’t a plug that you’re totally available for hire as a model, and the headline wasn’t a little clickbaity.

    • roswellivory November 25, 2016 at 2:34 pm #

      LMFAO! I’m a professional model with a big blog following- I’d be stupid NOT to advertise myself on my own blog.
      Having a valid opinion and using my site as a way of getting bookings are not mutually exclusive.

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