The effervescent chrome female nudes of Helmut Newton bring not only a sense of danger but beauty to his work encapsulated perfectly by art publisher TASCHEN in the 20th anniversary limited edition SUMO book. Helmut Newton (1920-2004) was and is still in death an icon of the art of photography.
Newton’s usage of light and composition has been copied countless times, his subjects painted in delicate yet harsh light, immortalised by a lens that clinically dissects their posed structures revealing an ancient yet modern symbolism. Many of the statuesque female nudes exude elemental moments of chrome black and white, metallic goddesses, Newton illuminating the eyes of the viewer with a futuristic nuance aligned with a simplistic minimalist idea of pure creation surrounded by the fertile womb of naked women at the forefront of the lens.
Newton first achieved international fame in the 1970s while working principally for French Vogue, and became celebrated for his controversial scenarios, bold lighting, and striking compositions in street or interior settings, rather than studios.
Born to a Jewish family in Berlin in 1920, Newton received his first camera at the tender age of 12, often neglecting his studies in school to pursue his love of photography.
Whilst working as an apprentice for theatre photographer Yva in Berlin in his teens, Newton felt the stirrings of his dedication to the female nude, a subject which has captured the eyes of artists from time immemorial. His subjects invoke a theme of sadomasochism, beauty, sleaze, and passionate violence tempered with the overt sexuality and empowering strength of his female models.
The glamorous life of Helmut Newton is however coloured in tragedy having fled Nazi oppression in Germany in 1938, shortly after Kristallnacht, he worked in Singapore and Australia during World War II, serving in the Australian army for several years as a driver.
He later opened up a photography studio and moved to Europe in the 1950s. In Paris he began working for French Vogue, and later Playboy, Elle, and other publications during the 1950s and 1960s as his reputation grew, travelling frequently throughout the world on assignments.
His many titles and awards include Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. His photos for various fashion magazines were some of the first to overtly present female nudity in a triumphant and empowering manner. However, underlying his bold images is a decadence and cruelty woven into complex stories of sex and power. It is this quality to his art that endures and has left its mark on the history of fashion photography.
Helmut Newton’s portraits have been widely exhibited in shows such as White Women, Sleepless Nights and Big Nudes and compiled into many books. TASCHEN’s most expensive publication ever created is the special edition Helmut Newton SUMO, a title that truly transcends the coffee table fashion photography book. Other anthologies include Pages From The Glossies, World Without Men, and Polaroids.
Newton’s photo Le Smoking, perhaps his most well known image, attests to the subversive elegance he conjured: a woman dressed androgynously in Yves Saint Laurent poses with a cigarette in a darkened, cobbled, Parisian street. Simple and powerful, black and white, Helmut Newton’s photography is classic glamour.
In 2004, he died in a car crash in Los Angeles at 84 years old leaving the Chateau Marmont hotel, a place that tells many stories. His ashes are buried three plots down from the grave of Marlene Dietrich at the Städtischer Friedhof III in Berlin.
Among other honours, Newton received the German Kodak Award for Photographic Books, a Life Legend Award from Life magazine, and an award from the American Institute for Graphic Arts for his photographs.
The Helmut Newton SUMO was a titanic book that towered above anything previously attempted. Twenty years later, TASCHEN celebrates the legacy of this publishing venture in an XL edition, the result of a project conceived by Helmut Newton and revised by his wife June. Gathering 464 images and a new booklet that takes us through the making-of the SUMO, it’s a spectacular tribute to the larger-than-life photographer.