Mr. Helmut Newton's work continues to have the ability to shock, and this exhibition catalog from the recent 80th birthday celebration show at the German Center of Photography at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin will definitely get your attention. The images contain many new and previously unpublished works by Mr. Newton. For those who like his aggressive and humorous views of women as leaders in sexual fantasy, this book is a must. For those who like his close-ups of faces more, this book will be a disappointment.
Before going further, let me mention (as the jacket cover images certainly suggest) that this book is rife with female nudity in sexual situations of an extreme nature. I suspect it would be hard to get this book rated as an "R" if it were a motion picture. The book is inappropriate for children, so make your purchase decision accordingly.
The essays in the book are the best part. I thought they captured the spirit of Mr. Newton's work especially well. Here are a few key phrases about the subject matter of his work that I liked and found particularly apt:
"women who take the lead"
"women who love and desire"
"women who are both responsible and willing"
"imagination and reality merge"
Mr. Newton was born in Berlin in 1920 and had to leave with his parents to escape persecution by the Nazis in 1938. It is very fitting that this show be held in Berlin, and that it contain some very wonderful images he shot in Berlin of women just before the Wall came down there.
He does not add much to his work to help you understand it. His view is that "a photographer . . . should be seen and not heard." His messages are very overt, so I think you see what he had in mind.
The works displayed here are primarily his female nudes and sexual fantasies. These involve female nudes in both domestic and public situations (as well as ones where they are treated like objects, such as the woman hanging from the wall like a part in an auto assembly plant), contrasts with clothed women (using the same models), as participants with mannequins (evoking the famous Newton humor), and as contrasts between the use of color and not for the same scenes.
The brilliant part of this book is its design. Facing pages always present a problem for photography book designers. What should be the relationship? In almost all cases, the facing pages here dialogue powerfully with one another and add to your understanding of each image. There are also some stunning color montages that could keep you occupied looking at them for hours.
Some viewers will be offended by the most extreme of the images that display women as objects. These are meant to be criticisms of that perspective, so they are meant to offend. Offend they will. To me, the most powerful is a woman hunched over on a bed facing down with a saddle on her back.
Of course, some may be even more affected by seeing the carefully posed statements employing his wife, Ms. June Newton, the show's curator, as the unclad model.
Many of my favorite images of his were missing from the book. Among my favorites available here include:
Chatillon Mouly Roussel & Dormeuil, French Vogue, Paris, 1979
Pierre Cardin, French Vogue, Theoule, France, 1992
Faye Dunaway, Vanity Fair, Los Angeles, 1987
Ralph Fuentes, Vanity Fair, Venice, Italy, 1995
Walking Women (clad and unclad), Vanity Fair, Paris, 1981
Sie kommen (clad and unclad), Vanity Fair, Paris, 1981
To me, Mr. Newton's greatest genius is in his ability to capture the personality of the model. This draws him in closer to the subject, and his aim is unerring. I missed seeing more of his portraits in this volume.
The editor deserves commendation for including some of each of Mr. Newton's many experimental styles. His virtuousity with technique has not been shown in one volume before.
The quality of the paper and reproduction are outstanding, and you will be very pleased with the representation of the images in this volume.
After you finish seeing these images, I suggest you think about how we can move beyond these perceptions of who a woman is. Does identity have to be so sexual to be honest? In a world of sexual equal opportunity, how should women think about themselves and how should men think about them? Those questions still need a lot of work photographically.
Look closely and have a great good laugh at the outrageous humor!