Helmut Newton: White Women • Sleepless Nights • Big Nudes Exhibition
Museum of Fine Arts Houston
3 July – 25 September, 2011
“Helmut Newton’s images moved beyond the accepted standard of how females could be portrayed, and many women found their own sexuality empowered by his work. His distinct, risqué photographs present what were, arguably, the world’s most beautiful models in a range of personalities.”–Anne Tucker, the MFAH’s Gus and Lyndall Wortham Curator of Photography
Helmut Newton, Photograph by Alice Springs, Published in Vogue, September 1989, Courtesy of Collection of the Estate of Helmut Newton/© Estate of Helmut Newton 2011
Risqué poses, reinvented femininity, fetishistic subtext, qualities that defined the work of 20th-century photographer Helmut Newton, whose first large-scale U.S. exhibition of work premieres at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, on July 3rd, 2011. Helmut Newton: White Women • Sleepless Nights • Big Nudes encompasses the entire contents of his first three groundbreaking books published over the course of six years (1976-82), which established him as the definitive modern photographer of women. 205 of the provocateur’s photographs from these publications that will be displayed were made specifically for the exhibition and are large-scale -some reaching nearly 8 x 8 feet, and will be on view through 25 September, 2011 in the Audrey Jones Beck Building. A complete set of the prints in the exhibition have been acquired by the MFAH. Organized by Manfred Heiting, Amsterdam-based collector and friend of the Newtons, and MFAH curator of photography Anne Tucker, the exhibition was sparked by Newton’s widow, June Newton. (Helmut Newton died in 2004 after a car crash in Los Angeles.) While his work revealed a redefined notion of femininity, this exhibition reveals the man behind the camera lens.
Helmut Newton, Two Pairs Of Legs In Black Stockings, Paris, 1979, Courtesy Sothebys 2011
Baron Adolf de Meyer invented the staged fashion shot, but Newton, one of the great innovators of fashion photography, conceived of it as a kind of short story – a mini-drama in which the female figure was more of a star than her clothing, which became a stage prop, thus reversing the priorities of fashion photography, in which the model is supposed to be anonymous and inexpressive, while the clothes had all the “personality.” The majority of Newton’s photographs which remain fresh, as poetic and mysterious as when they first appeared, are about dominance and submission -woman’s dominance and the spectator’s submission. Newton seemingly wants photography to have the same power over the world as woman does. For him the camera is an ironic x-ray machine: it strips emotionally naked even as it creates an alluring illusion. It simultaneously constructs and deconstructs, as it were. It analyzes in the process of imagining -dissects woman in the process of re-inventing her.
Helmut Newton, “Saddle I” from the series, “Sleepless Nights,” 1975-1978,
Courtesy of Collection of the Estate of Helmut Newton/© Estate of Helmut Newton 2011
Helmut Newton, “Rue Aubriot, Paris Collections” from the series, “White Women,” 1975, Courtesy of Collection of the Estate of Helmut Newton/© Estate of Helmut Newton 2011
Newton (1920-2004) first cemented his international reputation as the supreme recorder of female identity with his early books White Women (1976), Sleepless Nights (1978), and Big Nudes (1982). The first controversial book, White Women, pays homage to the naked female form, showcasing beautiful models provocatively photographed within scenes of luxury and decadence. Sleepless Nights followed two years later, and explores bondage culture and fashion; and Newton’s classic work, Big Nudes, presents pairs of black-and-white images of powerful models photographed both clothed and then clad only in high heels.
The exhibition catalogue, Helmut Newton: White Women • Sleepless Nights • Big Nudes, features entries by co-curators Tucker and Heiting; an essay by designer Karl Lagerfeld; and brief texts by Anna Wintour, editor of American Vogue; Pierre Berge, co-founder of the Yves Saint Laurent Couture House; and Josephine Hart, Irish writer and theater producer.
For more information on his life and work, see the Helmut Newton Foundation