Helmut Newton was one the most influential photographers of the 20th century. His photographic style challenged and altered the conventions of both fashion and portrait photography.
Born in Berlin, Germany in 1920, Newton’s fascination with photography came early in his life. At the age of 16 he left school to become an apprentice to renowned German photographer Elsie Simon.
Fleeing the Nazi campaign against German Jews in 1938, he eventually ended up in Australia in 1940. It was in Melbourne that he opened his first photo studio. In the early 1950s he began shooting for Australian Vogue.
Soon after, he started shooting for British Vogue. A few years later, he began shooting for the top fashion magazine of the time, French Vogue.
For the next 25 years, Newton stamped his unique photographic style on French Vogue.
Throughout these years, he also contributed to magazines such as Playboy, Nova, Queen, Marie-Claire, Elle, and the American, Italian, and German editions of Vogue.
After a nearly fatal heart attack in 1971, with the encouragement of his wife, his photographic style became more overtly sexual. The images he created after 1971 are the ones he is primarily remembered for.
This new style primarily featured cool, statuesque models who emitted a feeling of practiced sexuality. His photographs featured vignettes he staged and were fraught with overtones of voyeurism, fetishism, lesbianism, and sadomasochism.
While his photographs stopped well short of pornography, his work was often controversial and outraged many viewers.
Throughout his career, Newton’s work centered on fashion, nudes, and portraits; with the three categories often mixing.
Newton is remembered for challenging photographic conventions.
He created a provocative photographic style that embraced fashion, erotica, portrait, and documentary elements. Taken together, these elements produced a highly stylized interpretation of the elegant as well as the decadent ways of life.
Later in his career, Newton’s celebrity portraits became an important part of his work. He focused his portrait photography on people who personally intrigued him—artists, actors, film directors, politicians, and industrial giants. Many of these images were published in Vanity Fair during the 1980s.
Newton was a prolific photographer and still highly sought after until his death in 2004 from injuries suffered in a car accident near the Chateau Marmont hotel in Los Angeles.
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