Article originally posted on December 27, 2018
Helmut Newton (1920-2004) was one of the most influential photographers of all time. Born to a Jewish family in Berlin in 1920, Helmut Newton received his first camera at 12 years old, often neglecting his studies in school to pursue photography.
It is reputed that Newton first became enamoured with the female nude as a photographic subject as a teenager while working as an apprentice to theatre photographer Yva in Berlin.
Helmut Newton fled increasing Nazi oppression in Germany in 1938, shortly after Kristallnacht, and worked in Singapore and Australia during World War II, serving in the Australian army for several years.
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.
Known for the dramatic lighting and the unconventional poses of his models in his photographs, Helmut Newton’s work has been characterized as obsessive and subversive, incorporating themes of sadomasochism, prostitution, violence, and persistently-overt sexuality into the narratives of his images.
Helmut Newton increasingly focused more on these images rather than fashion photography in the 1970s, emphasizing the aggressive and incendiary in his works. He continued to travel later in life, dividing his time between his homes in Monte Carlo and Los Angeles.
He first achieved international fame in the 1970s while working principally for French Vogue, and his celebrity and influence grew over the decades. Helmut Newton preferred to shoot in streets or interiors, rather than studios.
Controversial scenarios, bold lighting, and striking compositions came to form his signature look. In 1990 Helmut Newton was awarded the Grand Prix national de la photographie. In 1992 the German government awarded him Das Grosse Verdienstkreuz for services to German culture, and he was appointed Officier des Arts, Lettres et Sciences by S.A.S. Princess Caroline of Monaco.
In 1996, he was appointed Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by Philippe Douste-Blazy, the French Minister of Culture at the time. Working and living in close companionship with his wife until his death at 83, his images remain as distinctive, seductive and original as ever.
In 2003, he died in a car crash in Los Angeles, at 84 years old. Among other honours, Helmut 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.