Helmut Newton At The Onassis Cultural Centre, Athens, Greece

published in: Exhibitions, Photography By Demetrios Gkiouzelis, 20 December 2012

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[This article contains mature content intended for 18+ readers only, if you are not okay with seeing nudity don’t say you weren’t warned!]

photo © Alice Springs
he work of legendary fashion photographer Helmut Newton (1920-2004) is the focus of the exhibition that is currently on display at the Onassis Cultural Centre in Athens, Greece (until 3 March 2013). With its 196 photographs spanning the entire length of his career - from fashion, portraits and his renowned nudes -, the retrospective offers a chance to experience the work of one of the most revolutionary and prolific photographers of the fashion world.

Newton is widely recognised as a pioneer who shook fashion photography to its core, transforming its customary poised sceneries into a highly risqué world, complete with provocatively seductive poses that reflected the sexual revolution of the era. A mainstay in Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and even Playboy, his voyeuristic unique look captures the innate underlying beauty, humour, sensuality and even violence of the world of fashion, wealth and power.

Helmut Newton – A Scene from Pina Bausch's Ballet, 1983
photo © Helmut Newton Estate

The ‘King of Kink’, as he was famously nicknamed, Newton orchestrated arresting scenes that feature nudity as the recurring theme, capturing a stylized jet-set lifestyle, where high-society belles are paired with guns, handcuffs, stilettos, orthopaedic braces, stockings and bold lipstick. Vanity and desire assume fetishistic qualities with sadomasochistic undertones, creating provocative and utterly expressive settings that appear candid and secretive, as if one is peeping through a keyhole to an electrically erotic hyper reality that unfolds behind closed doors.

Helmut Newton captured the world just the way he saw it. He believed that the perfect fashion photograph is one that doesn’t look like a fashion photograph at all. It is rather a photograph that looks like a still from a film, a portrait, a souvenir shot, or even a paparazzi shot; in other words, anything but a conventional fashion photograph. He despised artificiality, whether it came in the form of the phony glossiness of studio lights, or in skinny and surgically-enhanced models. He found beauty in the harsh reality of the flaw and set to elevate it to sheer perfection, transforming the female form into a statuesque god-like creature. He was fascinated by strong, powerful women, whom he regularly portrayed as seemingly androgynous, without however depriving them of their captivating essence of femininity. Menacing yet refined, provocative yet aristocratic, his models appear as manipulative ringleaders, dominating temptresses and aristocratic Amazons in settings highly inspired by film noir and Expressionist cinema. Predominantly black and white, the overall ambience of his photographs is that of erotically-charged elegance, set against atmospheric backdrops of darkened rooms and hallways in lavish hotels and mansions or the patios and gardens of bourgeois villas.

Helmut Newton, Yves Saint Laurent, Rue Aubriot, Vogue France, 1975, Paris
photo © Helmut Newton Estate

Hypnotic and perversely poetic, his work transcends the realm of fashion photography, managing to stand the test of time. Newton created a style so radical and widely recognised that it has been acknowledged for decades now as the go-to point of reference for the epitome of the artistic nude, clearly influencing the style of Mario Testino and Steven Klein among others. Looking back, it is amusing to see how his portrayal of the female form was initially momentarily questioned by the editor of British Vogue, who told him that 'ladies, Helmut, do not lean against lamp posts'. And the rest is history – as he proved everyone at the time so wrong!

Helmut Newton, The Exhibition is on display until 3 March 2013 at Onassis Cultural Centre

photo © Helmut Newton Estate

Helmut Newton. British Vogue, London, 1967
photo © Helmut Newton Estate

Helmut Newton, Elle, 1969, Paris
photo © Helmut Newton Estate

Helmut Newton, Rouge à lèvres étalé, Vogue France, 1983, Paris
photo © Helmut Newton Estate

Helmut Newton, Bergstrom, au-dessus de Paris, 1976, Paris
photo © Helmut Newton Estate

Helmut Newton, Walter Steiger, Vogue France, 1983, Paris
© Helmut Newton Estate

Helmut Newton x YSL for French Vogue 1979.
photo © Helmut Newton Estate


Onassis Cultural Centre, Helmut Newton Foundation

  • friend
    Angela | 2012-12-22 13:32:41

    Amazing! Everyone who has a chance should see this exhibition. I was lucky enough to visit Helmut Newton's actual museum in Berlin and I tell you, it was brilliant! So many amazing photographs, but also many of his personal belongings, cameras, e.t.c.

  • friend
    William Miller | 2012-12-28 13:41:49

    His works amazed and even inspired me! I am a poet myself and when arts meet, it's a kaleidoscope of feelings, colors and sheer experience. The more talented people we have the more interesting and colorful the life is.

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