This piece is all about a photography book that I love: “Helmut Newton- Pages from the glossies“ which focuses on his magazine work from 1956 to 1998. It’s a big book, running to 543 pages, filled with facsimiles of magazine spreads from a number of decades that combine to give a good insight into his style.
Helmut Newton (1920-2004) was a Titan of fashion photography. A man whose work constantly pushed boundaries and arguably set the stage for contemporary fashion photography as we know it today.
My wife bought me the book as a birthday present over 15 years ago.
It brings together a mind-blowing body of iconic work, and it’s great to see how his style evolves as the years advance- from simpler “classic” fashion photography shots to amazing spreads where his shoots become the stage for strange narratives to be played out.
For me, Helmut Newton’s work captures a “golden age” of shamelessly sexy and creative fashion photography, and is a reflection of the evolving tastes and liberated outlook of society itself at the time – I love the decadent, cinematic disco grandeur that his work reflected in the 70’s and 80’s- you can feel the joy in every frame.
His work was not without controversy. Newton was often accused of objectifying women via exploitative imagery, but to me his work is more style than exploitation- it’s all about strong tall women in positions of power over men – there is a strong streak of symbolism and fetishistic imagery in a lot of his projects, but in my opinion he always manages to keep it beautiful as opposed to uncomfortable in any story he is telling- compared to modern day fashion photography it’s pretty tame. As a boy, Newton wandered the streets of a bohemian 30’s Berlin with a camera, and you can see that the things seen by the boy had an influence on the man.
And speaking of stories, this book is full of them: A James Bond themed shoot that actually features Ian Fleming – a strange JG ballard “Crash” inspired shoot in which models pose with crash test dummies and l mobility aids become fetishized – incredible cinematic vistas in which models are posed to play out scenes from beautiful films that don’t exist- “extreme fashion” shoots in which you’re not sure if you’re looking at a model or a mannequin and magnificent, powerful shots in which models pose with packs of barking dogs and rearing horses.
What I also love about this book is that his photographs are facsimiles- seen in their original layout style- along with text from whichever magazine they were originally in- so you get to see how the shots were actually seen by readers, interacting with type as part of a piece of graphic design, providing an interesting insight into the evolution of magazine design through the decades
There is just so much to take in. Every frame is a work of art- Helmut Newton’s work was beautifully executed and his fantasies are meticulously realized. He was one of those brilliantly talented people who literally called the shots with his work- the fashion labels his models were wearing are pretty much irrelevant. They are mere costume props in his photographic fantasy world. Everyone just wanted to work with him, and he seemed to do whatever the hell he wanted a lot of the time- and it was always beautiful.
I’d recommend this book because it’s such a comprehensive collection of his magazine work. It’s easy to spend hours poring over the shots, and closer inspection just makes you admire him more. His composition, his obvious knack for getting the best out of superstar models and his amazing eye for creating super sexy, super stylish images.
Helmut Newton died in 2004, when his car hit a wall on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood as he left The infamous Chateau Marmont Hotel where he had been living.
Even his death was darkly glamorous.
Helmut Newton- Pages from the glossies can be bought here