Photographer Helmut Newton is most famous for his work as a fashion photographer, frequently creating work for Vogue magazine, and for his provocative, studied photographs of nudes. “If a photographer says he is not a voyeur, he is an idiot,” he once said. Newton is considered to have imbued fashion photography with narrative depth, giving context to his subjects by creating stylized, dreamlike scenes. Vogue’s U.S. editor-in-chief Anna Wintour once described his work as “synonymous with Vogue at its most glamorous and mythic.” Known for the dramatic lighting and the unconventional poses of his models in his photographs, Newton’s work has been characterized as obsessive and subversive, incorporating themes of sadomasochism, prostitution, violence, and a persistently-overt sexuality into the narratives of his images. He increasingly focused more on these images rather than fashion photography emphasizing the aggressive and incendiary in his works.
Born to a Jewish family in Berlin in 1920, Newton received his first camera at 12 years old, often neglecting his studies in school to pursue photography. It is reputed that Newton first became enamored with the female nude as a photographic subject as a teenager, while working as an apprentice to theater photographer Yva in Berlin. He fled increasing Nazi oppression in Germany in 1938, shortly after Kristallnacht, and worked in Singapore and Australia during World War II, serving in the Australian army for several years. He later opened up a photography studio, and moved to Europe in the 1950s. In Paris he began working for French Vogue, and later Playboy, Elle, and other publications during the 1950s and 1960s as his reputation grew, traveling frequently throughout the world on assignments. He continued to travel later in life, dividing his time between his homes in Monte Carlo and Los Angeles. In 2003, he died in a car crash in Los Angeles, at 84 years old. Among other honors, Newton received the German Kodak Award for Photographic Books, a Life Legend Award from Life magazine, and an award from the American Institute for Graphic Arts for his photographs.