William Helburn (1924-2020) was an American fashion & advertising photographer. He is best known for his contributions to advertising’s creative revolution in the 1950s and 1960s and his editorial work for magazines including Harper’s Bazaar, Life, Town and Country, Esquire, and Charm. Helburn was a first-call photographer for advertising agencies. These included Doyle Dane Bernbach (DDB), where he was praised for battling the “limits and style of the studio and the slowness of Kodachrome” to realize “a revolution in visual methods.” His best-known photographs depict the era’s most distinguished women, including Dorian Leigh, Dovima, Suzy Parker, Jean Shrimpton, Angela Howard, Jean Patchett, Lauren Hutton, and Sharon Tate.
“I think fashion photography is, singularly, the most creative form of photography…The fashion photographer always has so much of his inner self, contributing. His taste. His inner being … I don’t think I thought of myself as other than that.”
Helburn was born in New York City in 1924. He attended public and private schools in Manhattan and attended classes at The Art Students League of New York before joining the U.S Army Air Force in 1942. Helburn served in the Pacific theater, where he and his future partner Ted Croner learned to make contact sheets and develop film, including the first pictures of the atomic bomb attack on Hiroshima. After the war, Helburn and Croner resolved to become fashion photographers. The two men enrolled in Harper’s Bazaar Art Director Alexey Brodovitch’s Design Laboratory. According to Helburn, their class sometimes included Irving Penn, Richard Avedon, Robert Frank, Milton Greene, and Diane and Doone Arbus. Studying with Brodovitch led to Helburn’s first major assignment, a ten-page editorial shoot in the March 1949 edition of Junior Bazaar.
Helburn was at the top of his profession from the early 1950s through the 1960s, with bylined covers and editorial images in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar, LIFE, McCall’s, and many other magazines. He also became a successful director of TV commercials in the early 1980s. Helburn continued to work as a fashion and advertising photographer through the early 1980s, producing award-winning ads for Napier Jewelry (in collaboration with art director Gene Federico) as late as 1983. Helburn also developed a substantial business directing and shooting television commercials, working with many of the same art directors he’d collaborated with in his still photography career.
Helburn won more than 46 professional awards over 30 years, including 13 American Institute of Graphic Arts (AIGA) ‘Certificates of Excellence/Fifty Advertisements of the Year, 13 Art Directors Club’ Awards (or) Certificates of Merit, 4 Advertising Club of New York’ Andy Awards’ and 3 ‘Clio Awards for Advertising Excellence Worldwide.’