/Helmut Newton’s Fashion Photos Get a Spectacular Showcase in Spain – Robb Report

Helmut Newton’s Fashion Photos Get a Spectacular Showcase in Spain – Robb Report

Charlotte Rampling as Venus, wearing furs. Elsa Peretti on the roof of a skyscraper dressed as a Playboy bunny. A model in a baroque garden besides Lake Como, wearing only sunglasses and heels and wielding a gun. Welcome to the world of Helmut Newton—a cinematic and glamorous universe populated by dramatically posed, fierce-looking women, who somehow appear no less indomitable for being naked or semi-dressed. 

Few photographers have been so influential as Newton, who transformed fashion photography during the 1970s and ’80s. And few have produced such distinctive and singular work, as he brought nudity and more than a dash of fetishism to the glossy pages of such august fashion magazines as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar during those changing times. “Newton wanted to tease and provoke and push as far as he could,” explains Philippe Garner, a long-term photographic curator at Sotheby’s and Christie’s who knew Newton and who today is vice-president of the Helmut Newton Foundation.

We’re speaking at the launch of “Fact & Fiction,” an exhibition of Newton’s work at the MOP Foundation—housed in the spectacular dockside gallery established by Marta Ortega Perez. Ortega, scion of the family which owns Zara, is on a mission, or rather two—to champion both fashion photography and A Coruna, the rugged but attractive Galician port city which is hometown to both the Ortegas and their Inditex fashion business. It’s a smart move—a kind of niche Guggenheim Bilbao, if you like, in handsomely converted post-industrial buildings. And this is a spectacular show, combining vast prints with moving images and tiny polaroids, Newton’s own scrapbooks and even the monogrammed Louis Vuitton case that always travelled with him.

A wall of Helmut Newton's photographs from the Fact & Fiction exhibition at MOP Foundation

From the Helmut Newton “Fact & Fiction” exhibition at MOP Foundation

Mathieu Ridelle

Many of these images are iconic and familiar, others less so, such as portraits of David Bowie and Margaret Thatcher. What they all have in common is the technical precision and singular vision Newton applied to his work throughout his long and successful career, the rich rewards of which Garner describes as his “sweet revenge.”

Newton’s youth had been characterized by danger and persecution. A German Jew, he escaped Berlin to Singapore via Trieste, before being interned as an enemy alien in Australia, where he would meet his wife, the actress and model (and later photographer) June Browne, who became his lifelong companion. But from the early 1940s onwards, Newton’s stellar trajectory can be charted by the various editions of Vogue for which he photographed—Australian, British, then French, and finally American Vogue—before embarking on a series of major exhibitions, as fashion photography began to be perceived both as an art form and as a collectible. It makes total sense that he added Playboy to that roster of magazines, but Garner tells the story (“apocryphal or not, in a sense it doesn’t matter, because it rings true”) that when Playboy commissioned Newton they asked, can these please not be quite as kinky as the pictures you take for French Vogue?

Helmut Newton

From the Helmut Newton “Fact & Fiction” at MOP Foundation

Mathieu Ridelle

It is easy to imagine a contemporary fashion editor making a similar request of Newton, who died in 2004. More clothes, maybe? As Garner sees it, today Newton “would find the clients who had the courage to push against the edges of today’s protocols.” But for Marta Ortega Perez, writing in the foreword to the exhibition’s catalogue, the point isn’t what his subjects are or are not wearing, so much as “the power and prowess of his women.” Newton’s work depicts “a world with its own special language woven through with sensuality, mischievous humor and telling details. And at the heart of his universe was a magical complicity between the photographer and his model.”

“Fact & Fiction” is at MOP Foundation, A Coruna, Spain, from now until May 1.

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