How much do you know about the famous fashion photographer Helmut Newton?
“People gave us everything for free. We were allowed only so much film per picture, but there was no limit to the creativity. I like to say that they let us loose like wild dogs in the streets of Paris.”
Did you know that we claim him as Australian? He was a German born Jew who fled the Nazi regime aboard the ship the Conte Rossa. Finding himself stranded in Singapore, he was interred by the British and sent to Tatura in Victoria. Making a life in Australia, initially as a truck driver and then a photographer, he married an actress with the unlikely stage name, Alice Springs. In 1946, Newton set up a studio in fashionable Flinders Lane in Melbourne and worked on fashion and theatre photography in the affluent postwar years.
“My job as a portrait photographer is to seduce, amuse and entertain.”
He shared his first joint exhibition in May 1953 with Wolfgang Sievers, a German refugee like himself. 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. New Objectivity is the term used to describe the German lead departure from “pictoralism” that culminated in the American “modernist” approach. Soft focus was abandoned for sharp lines with strong contrast.
“Technically, I have not changed very much. Ask my assistants. They’ll tell you, I am the easiest photographer to work with. I don’t have heavy equipment. I work out of one bag.”
“I spend a lot of time preparing. I think a lot about what I want to do. I have prep books, little notebooks in which I write everything down before a sitting. Otherwise I would forget my ideas.”
“It’s that I don’t like white paper backgrounds. A woman does not live in front of white paper. She lives on the street, in a motor car, in a hotel room.”
His interest in fashion photography and nude photography eventually led him to move back to Europe in the 1960’s, to London, then Paris and eventually to California where he died following a car accident in 2004 at 84 years of age.