Helmut Newton’s remarkable life story and photographic legacy continue to fascinate an international audience today, two decades after his death. His images reflect particular aspects of our society at particular times, yet they go far beyond that. They address strands of our political and cultural history that remain constantly relevant; they explore the complex universal themes of sexual and social protocols; and they stand as a challenge to those who might endeavour to restrict our precious freedoms of speech or expression.
Newton enjoyed toying with contradictions. His pictorial world was one of meticulously constructed artifices, yet with the insistent immediacy and the compelling persuasiveness that he so cleverly coaxed from the neutral, forensic medium of photography. This question of contradictions and of the dynamic that they generate is central to the man and to his work.
Newton made his name as a fashion photographer. His images became increasingly in demand from the leading magazines, notably Vogue Paris, and including Elle, Marie Claire, Stern, British Vogue, Queen, and Nova. His appetite for making pictures and for seeing them published was unquenchable. Newton proved his own most exacting taskmaster, eager to express and impose himself by pushing boundaries and provoking a reaction from this audience.
Newton's work has been exhibited worldwide and featured in countless magazines and numerous monographs. The preservation and presentation of his legacy is managed by the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin, established in 2003.
Beginnings / The Early Years
Helmut Newton was born in Berlin in 1920, the son of a prosperous Jewish family. His passion for making photographs dates back to his childhood when he acquired his first camera, an Agfa Box Tengor, aged 12. His brief years of apprenticeship in the studio of Yva (Elsie Neuländer Simon), who specialised in portraiture, fashion, and the nude, crystallised his own determination in these fields. It was not until the late 1940s, however, after the dramatic disruptions of the Second World War, that he established his own studio in Melbourne where he met and later married June Brunell. Only from 1961, when he and June eventually settled in Paris (at the famous apartment in rue Aubriot) did his career start to build considerable momentum when his work started featuring in the pages of French Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar.
He renews his Vogue Paris contract under fashion editor, and eventual editor-in-chief, Francine Crescent, entering into what will prove the single most fruitful editorial relationship of his career.
June Newton assumes the professional name Alice Springs after starting to take on her own photographic commissions.
Helmut suffers a serious heart attack and is hospitalised while in New York shooting fashion at the invitation of Alex Liberman, creative director of American Vogue. He begins to file his negatives and contact sheets systematically.
His first solo exhibition, presented at the Galerie Nikon, Paris. He has his first London show, at the Photographers’ Gallery. And his first book, White Women, is published in numerous international editions. It wins the Kodak Photobook Award.
His exhibition at Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris presents large-format prints, notably his first series of Big Nudes, one of which, Big Nude III, the poster image for the exhibition, was destined to become one of his most celebrated and emblematic works.
The exhibition is commemorated with the publication of Helmut Newton, soon revised and republished with an introductory text by Karl Lagerfeld as Helmut Newton – 47 Nudes.
His first major museum show Portraits, curated by Françoise Marquet, opens at the Musée d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris.
He publishes World without Men, a retrospective anthology of his fashion photography.
Portraits is shown at the National Portrait Gallery, London.
He is appointed Chevalier de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
He publishes Pola Woman, introducing his audience to his Polaroids.
His exhibition Archives de Nuit, sponsored and hosted in Paris by the bank Crédit Foncier de France, introduces important new work, including his Domestic Nudes and Panoramic Nudes, and a range of more personal images.
He is awarded the Grosses Verdienstkreuz (Grand Cross of Merit) in the Verdienstorden der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany) for his contribution to culture.
He is appointed Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite culturel by Her Serene Highness Princess Caroline of Monaco.
He is the subject of an intimate documentary, Helmut by June, shot by his wife.
He is elevated to Commandeur de l’ordre des Arts et des Lettres.
Publishes Pages from the Glossies: Facsimiles 1956–1998, a compendium of magazine pages and covers covering his career as a fashion photographer. He also publishes two further significant books. Helmut Newton Alice Springs: Us and Them and SUMO, conceived in close collaboration with publisher Benedikt Taschen as a monumental-format tribute to Helmut’s long career.
His Autobiographie appears first in its German-language edition, followed by the English-language Autobiography and other international versions.
He agrees the formal arrangement with the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (Stiftung Preussischer Kulturbesitz) for the use of the former officers’ club opposite the Zoo station and establishes the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin.
Helmut Newton dies in Los Angeles on January 23.
Plan Your Visit
Explore Newton’s glamourous,
erotic universe where
nothing is quite as it seems.
erotic universe where
nothing is quite as it seems.