To Helmut and Back

By

Published December 4, 2008

Both images: Helmut Newton, Marie Claire 1973, Courtesy of the Helmut Newton Estate

 

Decades before Terry Richardson and Mario Testino titillated us with their Gucci ads, Helmut Newton was filming smiling, naked women wielding butcher knives. Now, seminal works from the original master of “porno chic” are displayed in “Helmut Newton: Fired,” a Berlin-based photography exhibition that chronicles Newton’s fashion editorial work from the 1960s and 1970s.

As many know, Newton spent this period in exile from French Vogue—his firing was the stuff of fashion folklore. “Fired” kicks off in 1964, with the Queen editorial exclusive that ironically nearly ended Newton’s career: André Courrèges’ brilliant watershed collection, immortalized by “the gun for hire” himself. The fashion spread was instantly iconic, but its scoop was too good. Newton wasn’t exactly entitled to take these pictures—at least not in the eyes of French Vogue editor Françoise de Langlade, who fired him. For the next five years, Newton’s increasingly edgy output was solely commissioned to other outlets.

 

Though Newton’s lurid aesthetic has become familiar, it’s still jarring. 1971’s “Newton Photo Machine”—an Elle editorial exploring “Peeping Tom” syndrome—and the masked and bejeweled aggressors of his notorious Nova shoots still outweigh the shock value of contemporary advertising’s most vivid sexual ad fantasias.

 

Helmut Newton “Fired” is currently on view at Berlin’s Helmut Newton Foundation.