Inspired by Helmut Newton
Helmet Newton’s iconic photography broke through social barriers and continues to influence new waves of artists, as most prominently evidenced in the recent Los Angeles exhibition Three Boys from Pasadena, a highly-regarded show of Newton’s protégés.
His work for fashion publications like Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, and later Playboy, blended highly stylized eroticism with timeless sophistication, giving his nude photographs an edge that flirted with the boundaries of censorship. In fact, in a Designboom interview from 2001, Newton conceded that at one point his work was “even too risky for Playboy. They asked me, ‘Please do something for us… but nothing as kinky as what you do for French Vogue’.” Despite his eschewal of traditional norms (Newton once claimed, “There are two dirty words in photography: one is ‘art,’ and the other is ‘good taste’,”), his eye and technical proficiency delivered again and again over the course of his 68-year career.
Newton’s style was heavily influenced by the Berlin of his youth, where he dreamed of becoming a paparazzo, as well as the photography of Brassaï and Dr. Erich Salomon. Shunning the studio, Newton shot his models – all of them women – in streets and interiors, staging provocative scenarios that tended toward the sado-masochistic and fetishistic. The subjects of his black and white portraits exhibit commanding presence and power, which, through his striking composition, Newton was able to capture while retaining a hint of voyeuristic impropriety.
Just before his death, Newton told American Photo, “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.”