On 31 October 2020 Helmut Newton would have been 100 years old. His foundation was established in Berlin-Charlottenburg in the fall of 2003, and opened in the summer of 2004; since than it has presented more than 50 exhibitions. Now, the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin is taking this special anniversary as an occasion to celebrate the exceptional photographer - for the first time by presenting his legendary, timeless, and innovative work in a large public outdoor exhibition in Berlin.
Helmut Newton was born in 1920, the son of a Jewish button manufacturer in Berlin-Schöneberg. From 1936 to 1938 he trained as a photographer under the renowned fashion photographer, Yva; his first self-portraits were created in her studio in Schlüterstrasse. But soon after, Newton had to flee Berlin. One of the last buildings he saw as his train left Zoo Station for Trieste was the military casino on Jebenstrasse. 65 years after Newton boarded a train at Berlin’s Zoo railway station to flee the Nazis, this building became home to his foundation and archives, where the work of Helmut and his wife June (a.k.a. Alice Springs), is presented in regularly changing exhibitions. Despite the tragic circumstances under which Newton left Berlin, the city remained close to his heart. He often returned to his hometown to take pictures on behalf of various magazines.
In memory of Newton’s time in Berlin and his exceptional work, the Helmut Newton Foundation will present a large outdoor exhibition along the 85-meter-long wall at Kraftwerk Berlin in Köpenicker Strasse 70, in the Kreuzberg district. On view from 31 October to 8 November 2020, the exhibition will be publicly accessible 24/7. Some 30 images from all Newton’s creative periods have been selected for this temporary show, HELMUT NEWTON ONE HUNDRED. Additionally, 250 City Light posters depicting Newton’s work will be on display during this time through Berlin, with the support of the outdoor advertiser Wall, which regularly and actively engages in supporting Berlin’s diverse cultural landscape. Never before has Newton’s work been seen in this way.
Newton’s series Naked and Dressed, which he produced for French Vogue and which marks his transition from fashion to nudes, along with his Big Nudes, catapulted Newton to world fame in the early 1980s and inspired countless photographers and visual artists to imitate or reinterpret them. Newton went on to refine his stylistic and subversive interplay of exhibitionism and voyeurism while working around the world for nearly every major magazine and fashion label. His focus was rarely the fashion itself, but an original parallel story, imbued by a sense of Hitchcockian suspense or inspired by Surrealism. The lines between reality and artifice often blur; the visual elements converge in an enigmatic game of power and seduction.
Newton created an incomparable body of work full of subtle allure and timeless elegance. His images draw on broad references, from mythology and art history, to reminiscences of his youth, against the backdrop of swimming pools and luxurious hotels. Newton’s photographs also document and comment on the changing role of women in Western society at the time.
L’Officiel Arabia had the opportunity to ask a few questions to Dr. Matthias Harder, Director and Curator of the Helmut Newton Foundation.
L'O: What makes Helmut Newton’s fashion photography timeless?
MH: There was and still is an incredible timeless elegance in his photography. Nowadays, his fashion pictures from the 1970s or 1990s have become classics. When he shot them, they were very contemporary, partly ahead of the spirit of the times. Thus, if a publishing house does a new book on fashion photography today, for sure you’ll find some Newton photographs in there.
L'O: What does his work say about his vision of the feminine universe?
MH: He loved women, strong women – as he mentioned in many interviews. Newton was interested in and fascinated by their natural power, their self-confidence and beauty, regardless if he was shooting portraits, fashion or nudes. And all those issues were transformed into his seductive and elegant pictures, focusing the principle of the feminine par excellence. Thus, it is not surprising that we count more female visitors than male ones in the Foundation.
L'O: According to the wishes of its founder, the HNF should not be a “dead museum”, but a “living institution”. How do you try to achieve this noble goal?
MH: Our Foundation is unique, there is no other museum-like institution in this size dedicated to one photographer and acting so successfully worldwide. I am quite proud of that. Many people from all over the world regularly come by to see Newton’s extensive work. But we opened our exhibition rooms also for the work of some colleagues as it was Newton’s wish. For most of the 50 shows we did since 2004, we invited other renowned photographers. A good sample for the idea of a “living institution” is the current show “Body Performance” with 12 photographers or artists using photography. For the first time in Germany, this group exhibition brings together photo sequences whose origins lie in performance art, dance, and other staged events, complemented by a selection of street photography and conceptual photography series. With their common focus on the human body, the images document or interpret performances, which in many cases have also been initiated by the photographers themselves. The most recent works in this show are from this year, thus we attract also a younger audience even Helmut Newton would turn 100 now.
L'O: What is it that you personally love the most about Newton's work?
MH: I love both, his photographic style and his autonomy. Newton worked for the best magazines and fashion designers, nearly always on commission, but he just did what he wanted to do. He created his own vision of contemporary fashion in the 1960s, rather early in his career, and later he adapted it just slightly from time to time. Ultimately, he was booked to visualize fashion and to portray people until he died. I guess, there is no other photographer who published more pictures in the magazines. And now, he lives on through his exhibitions.
HELMUT NEWTON ONE HUNDRED also includes a film program dedicated to the work of Helmut Newton, which will be screened on the ground floor of the museum from 31 October to 8 November 2020. Highlights include Helmut by June (1995), the expanded version of SUMO, directed by Julian Benedikt, and the documentary, Helmut Newton - The Bad and The Beautiful, directed by Gero von Boehm, which premiered in Berlin in early July 2020.
"HELMUT NEWTON ONE HUNDRED” From 31 October - 8 November 2020 | 85m wall at Kraftwerk Berlin on Köpenicker Strasse 70 + at the Helmut Newton Foundation
Helmut Newton Foundation | Museum für Fotografie | Jebensstrasse 2 | D – 10623 Berlin