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Helmut Newton - Newton's Big Nudes - Barbican

Helmut Newton was born in Berlin in 1920 as a son of a German button manufacturer and a rich American woman. He left Germany in 1938 because he was Jewish. He headed for China and ended up staying in Singapore for two years. He settled in Melbourne, Australia, where he worked as a driver in the army. Later he was left the army, he bought his first classy car and set up a photography studio in Sydney. One day he photographed a young actress who was playing the lead in Hedda Gabler in Melbourne. She was June Browne, also a photographer under the name of Alice Spring. They were married in 1947, but they didn't have children. In Melbourne he worked as a wedding photographer. He had chronic cardiovascular problems and she has had major heart surgery, but he says of her, "She is still a very amusing, interesting person. "She is 77 and he is 80 but they both look much younger. He had a heart attack in 1971, due to smoking three packs a day and being a workaholic. There is a famous portrait of June naked after her heart surgery in 1982, zipped up from pudendum to navel; he was interested in the scars. I saw the documentary TV film Helmut by June, which she made about her husband. They really seem to have a wonderful relationship. The documentary ends with him sending her a kiss to the camera; you could feel the complicity between them. She said that she only worried about him when he started to photograph flowers for their income. It is ambiguous view of his livelihood. She shows his working life obsessed by erotic photography and his meanness seems to be a running joke. He showed to the camera his old cashmere cardigan and his underpants full of holes.

June calls him Helmie. You can see the photo shot with Pavarotti; him shooting Pavarotti; Pavarotti shooting Helmut and then both of them together. Another shot was of Gianni Versace sprawled naked on a leopard skin throw (of his own choice); also a shot of Michael Caine and his wife Shakira.

I went to the Barbican to see his exhibition that was previously shown last autumn in Berlin, at the National Gallery of Berlin. Newton says he was influenced by Brassai, Erich Solomon (the German photographer), and the seductive black-and-white nudes of Man Ray and Edward Weston. In June 1999 he launched "The book", the biggest in the world - 28ins by 20ins, 480 pages and weighing 4 stones; too weighty for a bedside or coffee table. It comes with its own sleek steel stand, designed by Philippe Starck, on which to display it. It needed two men to lift the dummy edition onto the stage in Basle. The price was $1,500, with the Starck table included and limited to 10,000 copies. The art publisher was Benedikt Taschen (Helmut Newton calls him "Our Father"). Taschen hopes it will become a collector's item not just among photo-fetishists; hence its launch at Basle Art Fair.

Us and Them became a book and an exhibition. Newton said to his wife June, "I should not have done it. It's too demystifying. But then I said: 'well it's too late to pull back, and, anyway, at my age, what the hell?'"He goes on to say, "It's a very personal book, and... well, people have never associated me with that sort of photography. "

Helmut Newton is considered to be one of the world's greatest pornographers, the King of Kings, the photographic industry's crown prince of perversion. In fact the exhibition at the Barbican - Newton's Big Nudes - was to celebrate his 80th birthday is very impressive; life-size photos of human nudes and, of course, the models were wearing high heels. He likes what the high heel does for the muscles. His wife has photographed him clad in his favourite pair of heels with a pair of high-cut shorts; looking at his photos in high heels. I find his legs very sexy and slim. Georgette, his favourite plastic mannequin, is also in many of his photos, but his favourites are Barbie Dolls. His latest fetish is the black Barbie (without clothes) and her wheelchair bound friend. Newton said, "a nude is not pornographic, unless it shows a woman or man masturbating - that's pornographic".

He has portraits of politicians. "I had wanted for years to get Mrs Thatcher in front of my camera; as she got more powerful she got sort of sexier. "When Margaret Thatcher sat for him he said, "She was fantastic, I was very timid, she was totally in control". Her picture hangs in the NPG. In the portrait she looked mad, Le Pen diabolically with two black Dobermans. He once said, "I don't believe in good taste. It's very boring". But the woman he said, "(he) would love to photograph" is Camilla Parker Bowles. "She has huge power over one person in the face of great opposition". He continues, "I've sent out feelers, but alas, no bites". Camilla has not answered?I say "Darling, he is a genius, hurry up!!"

June has taken many photos of Helmut naked but on his own terms. He was horrified when he posed for Annie Leibovitiz and she asked him to unzip his trousers and pluck out his penis. What fascinates me most is that he is fabulously kinky in his images; it makes me wonder what is on his mind while he is taking photos of beautiful naked women. And again, I wonder what is going through his head when he lets his wife take photos of him in high heels.

In his Paris exhibition in 1994 - Les Derniere Nudes - he was going to concentrate exclusively on landscape photography, but he came back in 1995 for the haute couture in glossy magazines. Some names being thrown around were porno chick, domination game, pervert, deviant, and peeping tom; in fact, in his pictures have been vandalised by protesters and Newton has been physically assaulted. The real porno photos - penetration, erect penises - are housed at a Museum in Turin. When I saw his photos for the Wolford stocking advertisement for Fenwicks I was completely taken. Which brings me to my future husband - the man with the sexiest bushy eyebrows that I have ever seen. I know I haven't spoken about him for a long time but I did read in The Times that there is a sexual attraction with men who have bushy eyebrows because they have more testosterone. In fact, the first and only time I stroked his eyebrows my heart went bum, bum, bum. He doesn't like to have brows shaped professionally so I could do the pervert bit and shape them myself, one by one, while he goes on screaming with happiness. But it could be that his eyebrows are his real power like Samson, the Bible strongman who lost his power when his hair was unexpectedly cut off. So, the secret of my future husband's strength lies in his "au natural" eyebrows untouched by any barber or human hands. I am really fascinated by his eyebrows but, like Margaret Thatcher, I want to be the one "in full control". I feel I am a sort of frustrated dominatrix. The most famous hairdresser - for men - Mr James of the Ritz says regarding hairy noses, "Put the scissors up the nostrils and snip, snip, snip. Bushy eyebrows: I shave them or trim the ends. "This make me very happy because when I have my wax I suffer terrible pain and it's so good to know that men do too.

Helmut Newton photos of a woman in black leather trousers is perfect for women of my age. If you want to go in for domination it is great if you are dressed completely in black, no worry about the gravity and cellulite, just get out the riding-crop and, as the psychiatrist says, beat the gay and take out your anger. After this experience you will feel great, leather trousers make everybody sexy. In England, in the telephone boxes, you can get in touch with any kind of sex, but most advertisements are about domination, such as the advert which says, "Madam is waiting". "Madam's" photo is plastered of the ad with her face covered by a cat's mask, dressed in black and red with black high-heeled boots to walk on top of whatever she desires. She holds the riding-crop and the handcuffs and says "Domination... Let your fantasies run wild at the House of Corrections, Report now!"Another advert is for Domination House: Pain, Pleasure and Bondage, Rubber, Humiliation, Spanking, Tie and Tease, Maid Training. I heard a gay man on the bus say that he liked to be tied up because it reminded him of his mother tying him up when he was a little boy. So reading about the "Mature Mistress" it is good to know that a mature, divorced woman like myself still has a chance. Yes, it is no doubt that fetishism objects can give you a kink... I love shoes, I love high heels. When I walk around the streets of London I look down at the people's feet and I see women in fabulous shoes; and when I look at their face I can tell that their feet are killing them!But they wear the shoes because they want to be sexy. In fact, when I feel down I buy a pair of shoes. I must have the Imelda Marcos illness - a shoe maniac - with some it is an addiction. And now I am into the fetishism of eyebrows. But unfortunately, my future husband doesn't have the Italian moccasin taste. I suppose I will have to take him to Italy for some shopping and give him a little taste of the Italian in me!

Verinha Ottoni.




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