Berlin-born fashion photographer Helmut Newton is famed for his unequaled way of illuminating the female body. As many artists and photographers did, Newton chose to settle in Paris for several years in the sixties and produced some of his most acclaimed photography there. The first retropective in France of his work since his death in 2004 opened at the Grand Palais, Paris on 24 March.
The monumental exhibition was curated by the Réunion des Musées Nationaux and Newton's wife, Australian actress and photographer June Newton (also known as June Brunell or Alice Springs). It features over two-hundred photographs, mainly prints and polaroids.
Visitors are welcomed by one of his famous self-portraits, in which he liked to appear with his models. Self Portrait with Wife and Model was taken in 1981. It not only represents the artist at work with his subject but also wife and collaborator June watching her husband. They are then led through the unfolding of his oeuvre, from his early work for Vogue and Elle in the sixties to his portraits of the rich and influential in the eighties and nineties. The main gallery displays his notorious sexually-charged shots: it’s dominated by the remarkable Sie Kommen / Here They Come diptych to the right and the imposing Big Nudes to the left, which were inspired by German police identity photos.
Newton fled from Germany to Singapore in 1938, where he worked as a photographer for the Straits Times. He was sent to Australia in 1940, met and married June and started fashion photography, which he was destined to revolutionise. In the fifties he came back to Europe and started working for British Vogue in London. In the early sixties a major contract with French Vogue led him to Paris.
His work is a celebration of femininity, eroticism, physical perfection, voluptuousness and desire ; a perfect depiction of what the French like to call le beau monde. The subjects are desirable, free, powerful and glamourous, even with their clothes off and wearing nothing but stilettos. Newton's photography accompanied, illustrated and honoured the emancipation of women with a dignified yet somewhat provocative style.
Only a few men are represented in this collection, but visitors can admire notable pictures of Salvador Dali , David Lee Roth or Albert de Monaco in the last gallery, where Newton's iconic portraits of the wealthy and puissant are displayed. Then, in the middle of all these Newtonian men and women, audiences will come across a portrait of Margaret Thatcher, a daring contrast with the racy shots around her.
Helmut Newton – Grand Palais, Paris – 24 March – 17 June 2012