Newton’s work is often qualified as scandalous, obsessive, when it isn’t judged provocative. But it may be that the prism that his works are seen through ignore his motto: in photography, only good taste and art are obscene.
His sensual side set in a dramatic atmosphere, his use of light and unconventional poses, turn his shots into outlines of suggested sexuality and ultra-femininity. His exaggerated way of narrating relationships with money, sex, and class divisions earned him a place in the unofficial category of artists that are free from two-facedness. Like an insatiable experimenter, he takes his inspiration from classic painting. When he magnifies vices, it’s only to better unveil them, without any excess.
He created his own form of playing around with nudity. When he talked about the Fashion world, he cynically admitted: “I like fashion because I find it erotic and because it makes money. As it just so happens, I love eroticism and I love making lots of money.”
He never adapted himself to conventions or couturiers. Yves Saint-Laurent, under the influence of his aesthetics, discovered his singular universe with splendid sensuousness in 1975. His “smoking”, a pants suit with thin stripes, was captured on the model Vibeke on rue Aubriot in Paris for Vogue. From then on, fashion was called on to come out from the studios. Even better: in this shot, he gives women the right to choose their own sexuality, as one woman poses in a man’s garment in the presence of another woman.
But in addition to their common passion for women, Helmut Newton seems to overlap with Yves Saint-Laurent’s work in his proven desire to free the female body from the certitudes of bourgeoisie morals. When he brought together sparkling jewelry with a roast chicken, it was to better expose the vanity of the elite. Through his obsession for nudes, all the power and strength of the female body is revealed. Upon contact with him, these beauties become urban Amazons, dominatrixes, female conquerors, when they’re not overflowing with self-assurance.
Beyond clothing, Helmut Newton removed women from their ambiguously subversive status as photographic objects and made them the subject. This exhibit is an occasion to wander amongst more than 100 photographs from this German photographer, iconic images from his first three compilations: Sleepless Nights, White Women and Big Nudes…