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Helmut Newton: Eroticism vs. Criticism

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The world
of fashion cannot be imagined without photography as its loyal companion. This
media have been an essence, an irreplaceable tool for creating the whole
industry. Contemporary fashion world is based on the images. And there were people standing behind the emerge of the fashion industry. We are talking not
only about designers, but about photographers. Helmut Newton, our hero of the
day, is the person who shaped the whole vision and concept of modern fashion
photography. His influence on the nowadays visual reality is enormous, and
his works are not just beautiful shots of beautiful women. Newton was conscious of the sexual revolution and transforming social image of women and he was pushing those ideas in his oeuvre.
His settings, his models, his stories – everything was innovative and
brilliant. His main heroine is a modern, independent, and strong woman. Let’s
take a look at his photographs and figure out what is so special about them.

Helmut
Newton had lived a long and fulfilling life. With a help of his family he had
escaped from the Germany where Nazism was raising, stayed in Singapore just as many
other emmigrants, struggled through hunger and

unemployment, went to Australia,
lived in Paris, London, and Los-Angeles. You can read about his life and
adventures in his autobiographical book. It would be interesting not only for
people fancying photography, but for everybody who wants to whiteness an
exciting and vivid path of a very talented person with nice sense of humor and passion for life.

His early
works for Elle magazine (1964)  had caught that futuristic spirit of the 60s. His scenery
was unusually minimalistic, which made it timeless in a way. Previously, there was a
tendency in a fashion world to set up quite a theoretical background for the photo shoots.

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Peculiar
thing about his works – they do not look old or outdated. Sometimes we can distinguish
the decade by some specific details of the outfits, but the dynamics, the settings
looks relevant even for modern times. Nova shoot of 1973 is a good example of this
timelessness. 

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Newton’s
works are quite erotic, but they are not just about that. His vision of a woman
is quite feministic and powerful, which was relevant to the transformation of
the gender policies at the time. His decisions were always ahead of time and
his creative approach was unique. Who would use x-rays for the jewelry
advertising?! That’s right, Helmut Newton. 

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In
this series of photos (1977) Newton used a lot of orthopedic corsets to
show the contrast between the self-confident model’s look and visible physical
difficulties or even injuries they might have. We understand that models do not
look well, they seem to experience some suffering, yet we see the perfect
figure and confident eye. Newton was aware of this dark side of fashion, of the
illusion it creates. Make-up and closing are also a type of prosthetics to
fix up the imperfections. 

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The
“dummies” works (1978) also talk about similar topics, but add the question of
the personality absence. Models are just the instrument of the photographer’s
view, the mannequins for the exhibit, we rarely see their personality. They
have become the symbols of eroticism, except they do not resemble real people
anymore. 

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Big Nudes were made after Newton saw the photos of German secret police office with the life-sized photos of wanted people on the walls. He even referred to this series as The Terrorists

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Newton often featured the
“backstage” of the shoots, or included himself taking pictures of models on the
photo. This self-reflection
was quite new to the whole genre of fashion photography.

Photography
of Helmut Newton may look very familiar; it can resemble many modern photo
pieces, or just an image you recently saw in some magazine’s photo shoot. But
that just proves the tremendous influence he made on the whole fashion
industry, as well as on the world of photography. Controversial, erotic,
provocative, sensual, smart, – the list can go on and on; there are countless
epithets for Helmut Newton’s photographs, all due to their dimensional depth
and perpetual freshness of his ideas. If you want to find an inspiration – go
for Newton’s oeuvre; it will give you decades and decades of genius angles and surprising
combinations. 

Images are taken at the FOAM exhibition, Amsterdam

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