The Austrian capital is devoting a major retrospective to the fashion photographer who died in 2004. Guided tour.
Originally, it was to be the great exhibition celebrating the centenary of the birth of the most perverse of German photographers. Pandemic requires, the thing was shifted. In Vienna, at the Kunstforum, there are therefore nearly 250 images produced by Helmut Newton in fifty years of career, with a particular focus on his work in fashion.
The master’s entire bestiary is laid out in chronological order, his Berlin debut, his first steps in deconstructing the bourgeois in “Vogue Paris”, before the Newton woman of the 1970s emerged: a powerful machine which integrated with joy to the dark desires of males.
The visit is like, as always with Newton, a dive into his lustful fantasies. He portrays, often with humor, an idealized female figure, never a victim, greedy, sometimes voracious. Is she subject to the male gaze? We know in any case what he thinks of men, he hates them and contrives to make them stupid or useless. Does he feel above the fray and want to own all the women?
These are not the photos of a tender, those of Helmut Newton.
The text that accompanies the exhibition takes care to extinguish any controversy: “Newton has never been associated, directly or indirectly, with the denunciations of the #MeToo movement, the women who posed for him testified to the experience of in a relaxed way, they mention the humor during the sessions which were often held in the presence of his wife, June Newton. To the relief of some, obviously.
The rest of the text mentions the most prominent criticism against the resident of Monte-Carlo, who died in 2004 at the wheel of his Cadillac while leaving the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles: that of Susan Sontag. In 1979, the two took part in “Apostrophes”. Pivot plays candid, Newton repeats that he “loves women”. The American philosopher tackles him, smiling: “I feel your photographs are very misogynistic and it’s unpleasant”, before concluding: “These are not the photos of a tender, those of Helmut Newton. He pretends not to understand.
Helmut Newton objectified women, but his models do not embody slender and fragile “girls”
When Sontag conjures up humiliating images, he denies, with a smile on his face: “I am frank. Both are right and wrong. Helmut Newton objectified women, but his models do not embody slender and fragile “girls”, they decide, have fun, assume their faults, use their assets to crush the poor guy. Susan Sontag, who abhors this “male gaze” on women, omits the comic, liberating aspect that such photographs can take on. Thus, his famous image of a naked body swallowed by a crocodile, only the legs of which stand out, depicts… a man.
“Helmut Newton Legacy”, at the Kunstforum in Vienna until January 15, 2023.
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