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This monday, feeling a bit sluggish after a full day at the Twycross Zoo wedding fayre yesterday, I grabbed the first name that my eyes encountered on my photographers list. They set on Helmut Newton, so let’s go have a look at his work.

Helmut Newton was born Helmut Neustädter on October the 31st in 1920, Berlin, Germany to a German-Jewish button-factory owner and an American mother. Newton attended the Heinrich-von-Treitschke-Realgymnasium and the American School in Berlin. He had been interested in photography from the age of 12 when he purchased his first camera and he worked for the German photographer Yva (Elsie Neulander Simon) from 1936. The increasingly oppressive restrictions placed on Jews by the Nuremberg laws meant that his father lost control of the factory in which he manufactured buttons and buckles and was briefly interned in a concentration camp. The ‘Kristallnacht’ on November 9, 1938, compelled the family to leave Germany. Newton’s parents fled to Chile. He was issued with a passport just after turning 18, and left Germany on December 5, 1938. After arriving in Singapore he decided to remain as a reporter for the Straits Times and worked as a portrait photographer.

After he arrived in Singapore he became a reporter for the Straits Times and worked as a portrait photographer. While in Singapore, Newton was sent to Australia on board the Queen Mary by British authorites. He arrived in Sydney on September 27th 1940. After being interned at Victoria for some time he worked as a fruitpicker and enlisted with the Australian Army and worked as a truck driver in 1942. After the war in 1945, he became an Australian citizen and changed his name to Newton in 1946. He married actress June Browne in 1948, who performed under the stage name June Brunell. She later became a successful photographer under the ironic pseudonym Alice Springs (after Alice Springs, the central Australian town).

In 1946, Newton set up a studio in fashionable Flinders Lane and worked on fashion and theater photography in the affluent post-war years. He shared his first joint exhibition in May 1953 with Wolfgang Sievers, a German refugee like himself who had also served in the same company. The exhibition of ‘New Visions in Photography’ was displayed at the Federal Hotel in Collins Street and was probably the first glimpse of ‘New Objectivity’ photography in Australia. Newton went into partnership with Henry Talbot, a fellow German Jew who had also been interned at Tatura, and his association with the studio continued even after 1957, when he left Australia for London. The studio was renamed ‘Helmut Newton and Henry Talbot’.

Newton’s growing reputation as a fashion photographer was rewarded when he secured a commission to illustrate fashions in a special Australian supplement for Vogue magazine, published in January 1956. He won a 12-month contract with British Vogue and left for London in February 1957, leaving Talbot to manage the business. Newton left the magazine before the end of his contract and went to Paris, where he worked for French and German magazines. He returned to Melbourne in March 1959 to a contract for Australian Vogue.

Newton settled in Paris in 1961 where his works appeared in magazines including French Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. He established a particular style marked by erotic, stylized scenes, often with sado-masochistic and fetishistic subtexts. A heart attack in 1970 slowed Newton’s output, but his notoriety continued to increase, most notably with his 1980 “Big Nudes” series, which marked the pinnacle of his erotic-urban style, underpinned with excellent technical skills. Newton also worked in portraiture and more fantastical studies.

In October 2003 he donated an extensive photo collection to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, establishing the Helmut Newton Foundation. The foundation’s mission is the conservation, protection and presentation of the oeuvre of Helmut Newton and Alice Springs.

In his later life, Newton lived in Monte Carlo and Los Angeles. He was killed when his car hit a wall in the driveway of the famous Chateau Marmont, a hotel on Sunset Boulevard which had for several years served as his residence in Southern California. It has been speculated that Newton suffered a heart attack in the moments before the collision. His ashes are buried next to Marlene Dietrich at the Städtischer Friedhof III in Berlin.

My favourite images:

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