This season, London’s Hamiltons Gallery plays host to a high-octane injection of libidinal fantasy with a solo exhibition of Helmut Newton’s ‘Selected Works’.
In association with Tefaf (The European Fine Art Foundation), Masstricht arts and antiques fair, the presentation includes rare prints from the Helmut Newton Estate alongside a collection of polaroids from Newton’s shoots. The most influential and imitated fashion photographer of the 20th century, the “king of kink” earned his place in the pantheon of high art with fetishistic spreads of immaculately groomed women of impressive musculature in hyper-sexualised scenarios. Newton’s unbridled hedonism is on display in his 1976 print ‘Saddle I, Paris’. It depicts a saddled model mounted on a bed, her implacable stare seemingly saying ‘you want it? Enjoy the ride’. Also featured is his trademark ‘Big Nudes’ series, showcasing larger-than-life models aloofly gazing into the camera wearing nothing but high heels.
The German-Jewish born provocateur started his photographic career as a teen apprenticing for Berlin based photographer, Yva. Two years later in 1938 he fled Nazi persecution for Singapore, emigrating to Australia and eventually moving to Paris in 1957. There, Newton made a name for himself at French Vogue. It is a testament to his composition and technique as a graphic artist that in an environment saturated by sexual imagery, audiences still find Newton’s work engaging. Although his oeuvre is rife with luridly splayed legs and buoyant naked breasts, his subjects are not merely objectified fodder for the male gaze, but women in control of their own sensuality. His camera refracts the complexity of a post-sexual revolution identity, toying with ideas of power and perversion, dominance, gender roles and androgyny. Towing the line between vulgar schmaltz and luscious carnality, Newton’s appeal is timeless.
As 1970s nostalgia continues to titillate this spring, be sure to see the authentic risqué business straight from the behemoth of a man who inspired it all. If you can’t hot foot it to London then be sure to get your mitts on one a copy of his mind-blowing book SUMO from Taschen.
‘Selected Works’ Helmut Newton at Hamiltons Gallery 10 March through 15 May 2011. Teaser image Helmut Newton, Saddle I, Paris, 1976, © Helmut Newton Foundation, courtesy of Hamiltons Gallery.