It’s been 15 years since the iconic German/Australian photographer HELMUT NEWTON had a fatal car accident as he drove into his beloved Chateau Marmont in LA. It’s also been over 30 years since “Helmut Newton: Frames from the Edge” the last documentary on him surfaced. And the fashion/media landscape has changed so very much since then and so to the way we now look at Newton’s work in this brand new profile.
Undoubtedly a creative genius who left an indelible mark on fashion and portraiture photographer, but as Susan Sontag repeated told him on a TV show he was a real misogynist . She added though, she still liked him as a person.
It wasn’t just the fact that Newton was so obsessed with photographing nudes (always women, and never men) but we can still from some of the archival footage of him on Shoots that he always went too far. To him it seemed playful to ask a man to grab a women’s bare buttocks tighter, but watching it now it is reprehensible behaviour.
Newton on camera described himself as a ‘professional voyeur’ and declared that there are “only two dirty words” in any of the three languages he spoke — “art” and “good taste.” He never let either limit what he was trying to say.
German TV Director Gero von Boehm helming this documentary relied heavily on archival footage of Newton himself, and interspersed it with interview with his wife June and several of his models/subjects. Most of them were content with letting Newton taking totally charge of their sessions with actresses such as Charlotte Rampling, Isabella Rossellini, and Marianne Faithfull waxing lyrically about the finished work.
Grace Jones in particular couldn’t wait too strip naked for Newton even though he constantly claimed that her breasts were far too small.
Von Boehm talked also to the likes of Anna Wintour and others who were falling over themselves not just to give Newton assignments for their magazines, but also allow him total control on the content he gave them.
One of his commissions came from Vogue Hommes (Vogue for Men). It was to shoot a series of men trench coats, and he did so by wearing one himself whilst shooting naked women.
Some of the other work we see him creating on screen is really genius : such as Le Pen right wing French political leader who unknowingly posed, with his Dobermans, the way Hitler was photographed with his German shepherd dogs. Or his portrait of a young Sigourney Weaver squeezed into a lycra suit, or even the chickens wearing high heels.
However as his nudes are the center pieces of his career, then sadly history will not remember with the same respect and admiration that he enjoyed in his lifetime.
P.S, The movie will be screened on https://kinomarquee.com/ Virtual Cinema from July 24th