Helmut Newton: Portraits

Introductory Essay for Portraits : Helmut Newton

by Exhibition organiser Terence Pepper

18 November 1988- 12 February 1989

Helmut Newton’s photography is not concerned with picturing everyday reality. The fashion and portrait photographs which have established his pre-eminent worldwide reputation are unsettling, disturbing and controversial. They succeed because they provoke and stimulate our reactions to them. His most startling compositions are those which contain an implicit though unstated narrative. His subjects, such as Michael and Shakira Caine beside their Hollywood pool, are willing performers acting out for him an exaggerated view of themselves. Other relationships are explored in a number of extraordinary pairings: Robert Evans and his son Joshua, the tethered Tina Chow rebelling against her husband’s wish to restrict her, Larry Flynt with the portrait of his dead wife on the staircase. This play-acting is also ostentatiously stated in some of his individual portraits such as the one of Helmut Berger posing naked by his fireside, gazing into the mirror in a hymn to narcissism, or again, Daryl Hannah, one of the new breed of Hollywood stars, who is seen posing languidly like a beached mermaid in gymnastic rings on Muscle Beach, Los Angeles, against an urban skyscraper background, emphasizing her physical beauty.

Newton’s work is both critical and slyly humorous with regard to the world of the international jet set, whose court photographers he has been since the late 1970s when portraiture became his overriding interest. Most of his commissioned work has recently been for the magazine Vanity Fair, owned by Condé-Nast and edited by Tina Brown. There he and Annie Leibovitz are the two main photographers continuing the tradition of excellence in photographic portraiture begun by Steichen in the 1920s.

Newton’s photographic heroes are Brassai for his pictures of Paris after dark, and Erich Saloman for his candid concealed camera shots of illustrious statesmen and notabilities captured off-guard, as in his photograph of Prince Rainier and his friends. In Newton’s world the undressed state is the norm and this possibly derives from the start of his career in 1936 when, at sixteen, he worked as an apprentice to Yva (Else Simon) the then well-known Berlin photographer who specialised in portraiture, fashion and art deco-inspired nudes.

Newton was born on 31 October 1920 in Berlin, into a prosperous Jewish family. Educated at the American School in Berlin 1933-6, he excelled only as a swimming champion. His two-year apprenticeship with Yva was cut short when he left Germany in 1938 for Singapore. There he operated a portrait studio in a department store, taught photography to the Sultan of Jahore and unsuccessfully worked as a photo-journalist for the Straits Times. He served in the Australian army, 1940-5, and after being demobbed set up a studio in Melbourne. Here he met and later married, in 1948, June Browne, who appeared as a professional actress under the name June Brunell. After seventeen years, they both left Australia for Europe and settled in Paris, as Newton had received a contract with Vogue. A serious heart attack in 1971 had a profound effect on his work: thereafter Newton became much more selective in his choice of commissions, undertaking only those in which he felt he could extend the limits of what was considered publishable and explore fully his personal vision. It also marked the start of his continuing obsession and fascination with the medical profession and his series of self-portraits with surgeons.

If much of Newton’s portraiture of the international beau-monde appears to make them look bored or jaded, this is deliberate. He casts a critical eye at their imagined carryings-on. But not all his work carries these hard-edged hall-marks. In his portraits of legendary fashion figures such as Madame Grѐs and Madame Paulette, he is sympathetic and admiring. He is a man who likes women, but in a way sometimes hard to understand. Some of his portraits of non-celebrities are included in the present exhibition, including ‘Cook from Texas’ and the young Berlin girl by a silver birch tree; these are particularly refreshing and appealing.

Press extracts

The Guardian ‘Standing In The Shadows’, 17th November 1988 - Colin McDowell

‘For all their gloss, technical excellence and shallow glamour, Helmut Newton’s portraits fail to involve us. The photographic statement for which he will be remembered remains his fashion photography. Strong and challenging, it slyly exposes our weak points, ruffles our composure and forces us to question our conceptions.’

The Times ‘The Domination Game’, 17th April 2000 - Hannah Betts

Consistently in Newton’s work sex is merely a sub-category of his larger obsession with power. The fixation reveals itself not only in the images of sexual domination that pepper his work, but in the S&M dynamic of his shoots; he is very much the S, his model is the M. It is also the preoccupation of his portraits in which the wealthy, the influential and the merely famous are subjected to a scrutiny of such knowingness that it borders satire.

‘Newton’s work is an acknowledgement of the fact that fashion is fetishism, and photography voyeurism.’

Exhibition Handlist

1. Self-portrait
Yva’s studio, Berlin, 1936

Yva’s studio, Berlin, c.1936

Hotel Due Torri, Verona 1976

Hotel Due Torri, Verona 1976

Self-portrait during an electrocardiogram
Lennox Hill Hospital, New York, 1973

With Dr Jean Dax, Paris, 1985

With Dr Jacques Viettier, Paris 1985

8-15 A series of portraits of June Browne, the actress turned photographer who married Helmut Newton in 1948.

With June Newton (Alice Springs) and models, Vogue studio, Paris, 1981

June Browne
Inverloch, Australia, 1947

June Browne
Melbourne, 1947

June Newton
In the Metro, Paris, 1957

Paris, 1972

Ramatuelle, 1974

June with Cigar
Paris, 1962

June in the Hotel Pont-Royal
Paris, 1982

Helmut Newton’s automatic photo-machine
Subjects include: Brassai, Gilberte Brassai, Dѐsirѐe and W.S ‘Bill’ Hayter, June and Helmut Newton, Barbara and Jeanloup Sieff, Bob Smith, Eugenio Tellez, Paris 1974

Elsa Peretti
Jewellery designer, New York, 1975

Andy Warhol
American Pop Artist, Paris, 1974

Loulou de la Falaise born 1946 Muse, friend and confidante of Yves Saint Laurent, Hotel Pont-Royal, Paris, 1975

David Bailey born 1938, British Photographer, With his third wife, Marie Helvin, born 1952, model and television presenter, Grand Hotel du Cap, Antibes, 1977

David Hockney born 1937, Painter, Piscine Royal, Paris, 1975

Régine (néé Rachel Zylberberg) born 1929

Margaux Hemingway born 1955, Model and film actress, granddaughter of Ernest Hemingway, With her husband, Errol Wetson, her parents and her sister, Mariel Hemingway, born 1961, film actress, The Ritz, Paris, 1975

Margaux Hemingway, Paris, 1975

Madame Paulette 1900-84, Celebrated Parisian milliner, Paris, 1979

Madame Grѐs born 1910, Fashion designer, Paris, 1978

Karl Lagerfeld born 1983, Fashion designer, By the Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1976

Karl Lagerfeld with monocle, Paris, 1974

Karl Lagerfeld, Paris, 1983

Catherine Deneuve (Catherine Dorléac) born 1943, Actress, For photo-essay in Nouvel Observateur, Paris 1983

Catherine Deneuve, Paris, 1976

Paloma Picasso, Dress by Halston and jewellery designed by herself, Saint Tropez, 1973

Paloma Picasso born 1949, With her husband Rafael Sánchez López and Zavier Arroyellon

Paloma Picasso with Rafael Sánchez López, Paris, 1978

Brassai (Gyula Halász) 1899-1984, Hungarian-born French photographer, At his front door, Paris, 1975

Bill Brandt 1904-83, Photographer, At J.H. Lartigue’s house, Opio, 1975

Charlotte Rampling born 1945, Film actress, At the Hotel Nord-Pinus, Arles, 1973

The Countess Joy de Rohan-Chabot (with her children and maids) and Diane Segard, Paris, 1978

Diane Segard and the Countess Joy de Rohan-Chabot, Paris, 1978

Mary Ellen Mark born 1940, American photographer, Grand Hotel du Cap, Antibes, 1977

Betty Catroux, Intimate confidante of Yves St Laurent, At home, Paris, 1980

Nick Wilder, Art dealer and gallery owner, Los Angeles, 1976

The Princess of Polignac, Paris, 1979

Isabelle Huppert born 1955, French-born film actress, Hotel Carlton, Cannes, 1976

Romy Schneider (Rosemarie Albach-Retty) 1938-82

Mick Jagger born 1939, Rock singer, Paris, 1977

An unknown beauty, Monte Carlo, 1979

Raquel Welch (Raquel Tejada) born 1940, Film actress and sex symbol, Los Angeles, 1980

49-52 A series of portraits of starts and directors of German new-wave films for Life magazine, May, 1981.

49. Hanna Schygulla born 1943, German film actress, Munich, 1980

Rainer Werner Fassbinder 1946-82, Film director, Berlin, 1980

Wim Wenders born 1945, Film director, Berlin, 1980

Werner Herzog born 1942, Film director, Bavaria, 1980

David Lee Roth born 1955, Ex-lead singer of Van Halen, Pasadena, 1979

David Bowie (David Jones) born 1927, Singer and actor, Monte Carlo, 1983

Debra Winger born 1955, American film actress, Los Angeles, 1983

Jenny Kapitan, In Helmut Newton’s studio, Paris, 1978

Arielle, After a hair-cut, Paris, 1982

Sigourney Weaver born 1949, Film actress, Los Angeles, 1983

Don McCullin born 1935, British photographer, Antibes, 1983

Larry Flynt, Owner of Hustler magazine, In his gold wheelchair with a portrait of his late wife, Beverly Hills, 1986

Tina born 1950 and Michael Chow born 1938, Restaurateurs, Beverly Hills, 1984

Hugh Hefner born 1926, Creator of the ‘Playboy’ empire, Drinking Pepsi-cola with Carrie Leigh, Beverly Hills, 1984

Daryl Hannah born 1960, Film actress, Los Angeles, 1984

Daryl Hannah, With unidentified baby for a fashion story in American Vogue, Los Angeles, 1984

Teri Rojas, Painter, with her sister Cheri Hamilton, Santa Barbara, 1984

Lisa Kitchen, Photographer and Museum Trustee, Santa Monica, 1984, Private commission

Peter Beard born 1938, Photographer with his portrait by Francis Bacon, Paris, 1976

68-69. Helmut Berger (Helmut Steinberger)
born 1944, film actor, Beverly Hills, 1984

70. John Huston 1906-1988, film director, Los Angeles 1984

71. Anjelica Huston born 1952, film actress and daughter of John Huston, Los Angeles, 1986

72. Lisa Lyon, Body builder, In her studio, Venice, California, 1981

73. Jacqueline Bisset born 1944, British-born film actress, Beverly Hills, 1984

74. Ava Gardner born 1922, film actress, London 1984

75. Veruschka (Vera Lehndorff), fashion model and artist

76. Veruschka, Paris, 1984

77. Prince Rainier of Monaco born 1923,with close friends, Monte Carlo, 1984

78. Princess Caroline of Monaco born 1957, Monte Carlo, 1983, Collage

79. Baron and Baroness di Portanova, with unknown guest, Hotel de Paris, Monte Carlo, 1984

80. Policewoman and female train engineers, Houston, Texas, 1985

81. Patricia ‘Bubbles’ Viscountess Rothermere born 1930, at home, London, 1985

82. Julian Schnabel born 1951, New York artist, with wife Jacqueline, Beverly Hills, 1985

83. Billy Wilder (Samuel Wilder) born 1906, film director, with his wife Audrey at their home in Los Angeles, 1985

84. Arianna Stassinopoulos Huffington born 1950, biographer of Picasso, with Françoise Gilot-Salk, mother of Paloma Picasso, Los Angeles, 1985

85. Dennis Hopper born 1935, actor and film director, with Denise Crosby (granddaughter of Bing Crosby), Venice, California, 1985

86. Xavier Moreau, publisher, with his wife, Verona, Italy, 1984

87. Michael Caine (Maurice Micklewhite) born 1933, British film actor, with his wife Shakira at their home in Beverly Hills, 1985

88. Hanna Schygulla born 1943, with Edith Head 1907-81, Holywood costume and dress designer, Los Angeles, 1980

89. Anthony Burgess (John Burgess Wilson) born 1917, British writer, resident in Monaco, Monte Carlo, 1985

90. Grace Jones born 1952, singer, with Dolph Lundgren born 1959, film actor, Los Angeles, 1985

91. Elizabeth Taylor born 1932, British-born film actress, Los Angeles, 1985

92. Robert Evans born 1930, film actor and producer, with his son Joshua, Beverly Hills, 1986

93. Mrs C.Z. Winston Guest born 1921, with her daughter Cornelia born 1964, Socialites, Palm Beach, California, 1986

94. Micky Rourke born 1950, film actor, As the private eye in Angel Heart, New York, 1986

95. Michael Cimino born 1940, American film director and screenwriter, Nice, 1985

96. Claus von Bulow, New York, 1985

97. Prince Johannes born 1926 and Princess Gloria born 1960 Thurn and Taxis, on their yacht, L’Aigon, off Ibiza, 1985

98. Paloma Picasso, Nice, 1983

99. Julian Hipwood born 1946, Captain of the English polo team, Palm Beach, California, 1986

100. Jack Nicholson born 1937, film actor, Los Angeles, 1985

101. Madame Claude, former French madame, Paris, 1986

102. Sade (Helen Folasade Adu) born 1960, singer, with Paul Spencer Denman (her bass guitarist), Beverly Hills, 1985

103. Monica Vitti (Monica Luisa Ceciarelli) born 1933, Italian film actress, Rome, 1986

104. Salvador Dali born 1904, Spanish surrealist painter, Figuras, Spain, 1986

105. Cook in Texas, 1985

106. Young Berlin girl
107-110 A series of 4 portrait diptychs showing subjects on their beds with the contents of their cupboard drawers.

107. Christopher Isherwood 1904-86, Santa Monica, 1983

108. David Hockney born 1937, Los Angeles, 1983

109. Charlotte Rampling born 1945, Paris 1983

110. David Bowie born 1947, Berlin, 1983

111. Michael York born 1942, stage and film actor, Monte Carlo, 1986

112. Sir David Lean born 1908, British film director, Cannes, 1988