NEWTON (Neustaedter), HELMUT


NEWTON (Neustaedter), HELMUT (1921–2004), fashion photographer. Born in Berlin to a well-to-do German-Jewish family, Newton became a widely imitated fashion photographer after his provocative, erotically charged photographs became a mainstay of Vogue and other publications. He was guided by a passion for the strength and allure of the female form and his unquenchable taste for sexual imagery, including the bizarre and scandalous, earning the nickname the King of Kink. Newton got his start in Berlin as an apprentice to the fashion photographer Else Simon. At 18 he fled Nazi Germany and moved to Singapore, then to Melbourne. After serving in the Australian army during World War II, he opened a studio of his own and his photographs appeared in Australian Vogue.

In 1961 he moved to Paris with his wife, June (known as the photographer Alice Springs), and made his name with French Vogue as well as Queen, Nova, Marie Claire, French Elle, Stern and Vanity Fair. He brought stylized cruelty to mainstream fashion. His images, often in stark black and white, were calculated to shock, and featured tall, blonde, sometimes naked women in heels, perhaps illuminated by headlights or trapped in a dark alley. "Fashion for me," Newton once said, "is not an illustration but an idea around which to create a scene." The scenes were often based on familiar pornographic depictions. Bondage, sadomasochism, voyeurism, murder, pornography, and prostitution were exploited and explored. Models were dressed and used in unexpected ways: in orthopedic corsets, or in wheelchairs, or on all fours wearing a dog collar. His work was closely associated with leading fashion designers like Yves Saint Laurent, who favored tight, wide-shouldered suits and long-legged models, which Newton embraced. His work was also associated with photographers like Guy Bourdin and Deborah Turbeville, and sometimes drew the ire of groups that felt his depictions of women could be demeaning and exploitive. Newton and his wife frequently photographed themselves and each other naked: at rest, exercising, posing, joking, bathing.

In a 1996 interview, Newton suggested that his German upbringing and his experiences with the Nazis played a large part in his artistic philosophy. "The point of my photography," he said, "has always been to challenge myself. To go a little further than my Germanic discipline and Teutonic nature would permit me to." After working as a freelancer in the 1940s, he moved to France in the late 1950s. He kept a home in Monte Carlo, which was often a setting for his photographs, and from 1981 to his death he wintered at the Chateau Marmont hotel in Hollywood.

Newton published ten books during his lifetime, including an erotic photo album in 1976 called White Women and in 2003 Autobiography, a memoir of his adventures through life, women and high-fashion photography. Shortly before his death he created the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin. He also picked a symbolic home for the foundation, a former Prussian army officers' club that stands beside the railroad station where, as a teenager, he boarded a train and fled Hitler's Germany. He and his wife made an initial permanent loan of 1,000 prints of their work to the foundation. They stipulated that, after their deaths, their negatives and archives as well as all rights, royalties and income from sales of prints will go to the foundation. "It is my wish that the Helmut Newton Foundation be a viable and living institution, not a dead museum, that will financially exploit these archives," he said. Berlin's cultural establishment embraced the foundation with enthusiasm, not only for its artistic merit but also for the message implicit in a Berlin Jew's decision to return home.

Newton was fatally injured when he lost control of his car and crashed into a wall outside the Chateau Marmont. The city of Berlin offered him an honorary grave. On June 2, 2004, two days before the foundation's inauguration, Newton's ashes were laid to rest in the Friedenau cemetery in Berlin.

[Stewart Kampel (2nd ed.)]


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.