Photography: Helmut Newton


I have written many times about your producing ‘impact’ in your photographs, and not just ‘record’ shots. I have also written about choosing your best shots for display. Helmut Newton believed that his photographs were meant to be seen – not stored away forever.

Newton was one photographer whose work is characterized by ‘Impact’. He turned fashion photography on its ear in the 1960s with his extremely confrontational images, and has left the world the most amazing photographic book, called “Sumo” – a tome which weighs in at 66 kg and costs USD100. Even some of his previous works which are now out of print can fetch large sums. I have one of his books published in 1984 called “World without men” which is currently valued in the USA at $50. And, no, it is not for sale!

Newton is a unique character. Born in Berlin in 1920, he was the son of well to do Jewish parents and was apprenticed to the studio of Yva when he was 16. However, two years later with hostilities looming and his father arrested by the Gestapo, Newton was sent to Australia in 1938.

After the war he resumed his photographic work gaining some international clients and then moved to Paris in 1961. His hard edged approach to his fashion shoots stood him apart from the others of the day, as well as his exacting perfectionism in the actual taking of the photographs.

In 1971 he suffered a heart attack and gave up the impossible time schedules he used to take upon himself with the fashion houses’ showings, and embarked on a style of photography that was personally pleasing for him. That style was even more confrontational, with women fighting often being a recurrent theme, and erotic images and cynicism showing through in his fashion shots.

Some of Newton’s work has been labeled pornographic, but he refused to admit to a definite demarcation between the erotic and the pornographic. He just has an eye for the image that will produce the most impact, and even the fashion shot published here has that powerful presence about it.

A portrait done by Helmut Newton will not be an airbrushed soft focus beauty shot, but will be something like the one of Paloma Picasso – powerful and traffic stopping. As I wrote at the start of this article, Newton’s work has “Impact”.

Now while many will say that Paloma’s portrait is “art”, Newton himself had no time for the “Fine Art” school of photography. Speaking about those photographers he said, “I admire their steadfastness but often find their pictures boring. I have to thank the ‘consumer society’ for whatever success I have had, not foundations, museums or grants.” He spoke further, “When I take pictures I don’t do it just for myself, to put away in a drawer. I want as many people as possible to see them.”

In his lifetime, Helmut Newton the photographer has become an icon for many, and the legion of photographers who have copied his style are also a tribute to him. When Newton adopted the ring flash, used in medical photography, to his fashion shots, sales in ring flashes went wild. However, none have the sharp edged way of presenting the subject matter as did Helmut Newton.

Initially, he worked in Black and White, but in later years showed that he could produce just as much impact in color. Newton’s images remain as some of the most powerful shots of women ever published and every one full of impact.