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.
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.
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!
I don’t love these ones…
And don’t get me started on these.
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?
If this wasn’t a Newton, why isn’t it just a cheesy, overacted, rather unflattering shot?
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.
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.
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.
Models: Katy Cee and Iveta (both retired from modelling)
Assisting Don McCrae
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.
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
P.S. Here I am demonstrating how to correctly work with a cat. Take note, Helmut Newton- wherever you are in time and space!
Photo by Elena Isac.