Helmut Newton

Biography of Helmut Newton

The German-Australian photographer Helmut Newton radically changed the perception of fine art photography by producing provocative and highly stylized interpretations of fashion and erotica, capturing a distinctly glamorous way of life. Born in 1920, Helmut’s early life was a hectic one, having fled the Nazis in 1938 and subsequently working as a portrait photographer in Singapore for two years. His parents, German Jews, owned a button and buckle factory and managed to flee to South Africa before the outbreak of World War II.


Soon after moving to Australia Helmut Newton—who was conscripted into the Australian army—became a British subject and subsequently changed his name from Neustädter to Newton. It was in Melbourne that he set up a photography studio and married the soon to be famous photographer Alice Springs. His occasional work for Australia Vogue secured him a contract with British Vogue and from there his career exploded. In 1961 he transferred to French Vogue where his style became synonymous with the publication for over a quarter of a century.


Helmut Newton was renowned for the erotic, often fetishistic content of his photography, even taking his “confrontational nudes” to Playboy with pictorials of Nastassja Kinski and Kristine DeBell. After a heart attack his output slowed, and Newton became more interested in the world of celebrities. He photographed them whilst living in the Hollywood hotel Chateau Marmont where he befriended Dennis Hopper and Billy Wilder. Many of these later images were published in Vanity Fair.


Almost all of Helmut Newton’s books and exhibitions were curated by his wife including Sumo, 1999 which was so large it weighed in at 26 kilograms. In 2008 he was awarded a large exhibition at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin on the occasion of his eightieth birthday. He would donate over 1000 works to Berlin for the Helmut Newton Foundation shortly before his death in 2004 from injuries sustained in a car crash. Typically for the stylish Newton, he was driving a Cadillac.

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