Like all good students of photography I go around the occasional gallery or pop into art shops to try and find inspiration; to look at the work of other photographers and try to figure out what I like, what I don’t like and how I want my own work to look.
While in Berlin I visited The Helmut Newton Foundation. I knew nothing about him and still know very little.
Something that put me off the exhibition and wanting to know more about this photographer was a diary entry that stated he should open a museum to himself.
It just didn’t sit right with me. Not just the statement; on its own it could be taken very much as tongue-in-cheek but I got the impression it was not a light hearted diary entry and that he may well have been a very vein person.
The lay out and atmosphere in the gallery may not have anything thing to do with him and he is clearly a good photographer. Clearly!
However I quickly became aware that I was not going to walk out of the building as a fan. The opposite is probably true. There is a very fine line between confidence, over confidence and arrogance.
While I find the cover image below to be nothing more than a bit of harmless fun that is a bit cheeky (Sorry but I am a child of the 70s & 80s) the rest of his work left me feeling a little cold.
There seems to be a definite arrogance towards women where females were nothing but objects and treated like mannequins. I have tried to rationalise just how sexist his work appeared to me, as part of ‘that generation’ but again, it just doesn’t sit right me.
Something about the work displayed sat very uncomfortably with me and I hope my work never leaves anyone feeling as cold.
I should perhaps research him a little more as I may well be doing him a dreadful injustice but this wasn’t a first impression judgment made in thirty seconds. I spent a fair bit of time in the gallery.
For now my personal opinion stands and rather than looking at more of his work I should be out taking my own photos.
(I am happy to be corrected on this post and would welcome direction to sites you think would make me better informed).
Jim Jimmy James.
I think we all have work that we respond to more favorably than others. Newton is from a generation of fashion photographers that were pushing a lot of issues and the work probably needs to be looked at in that context. There are some very good videos on youtube on him. It might not change your mind, but it might give you more insight. After 37 years photographing, I find I learn much more looking deeper into respected artist’s work that I don’t understand or respond to as favorably.
Thanks for visiting my blog and taking the time to comment.
As you suggested, this evening I have watched a few interviews and a documentary on Newton.
It was hard to get passed my first impression of his work and perhaps some of that was due to the setting. After looking at some of his portraiture I would say that the exhibition didn’t have what I would say is his best work. I think the real problem I had was it felt soulless. Again that may be down to the environment, lighting and layout of the exhibition. However I would also say that the women in the images I looked like they had been directed into unnatural and uncomfortable positions by a man.
I have no issues with the subject matter but the emotionlessness of it leaves me feeling indifferent.
I think the important thing is to just get beyond our first impressions, which are often not totally informed, and then we can make more informed decisions.
I found that how involved his wife was with his work gave me another take on him. His “Big Nudes” really gave women a lot of power. Reportedly, and they were shown as bigger than life sized prints, people in galleries felt intimidated by them–I thought that was funny.
Newton has always mainly been known for his sexual and fetishistic images of women.
They are a matter of taste, and it is not always to mine. He has also done some very good portraits though, and his technical style is distinctive, and very much a personal signature.
I find some of his ‘cheeky’ photos quite appealing, but then I am older. Whether or not he is sexually exploiting females is, like always in these arguments, sort of up to them.
On balance, we certainly don’t need these type of shots, and could live happily enough without ever seeing another one.
Cheers Jimmy. Pete.
I didn’t even know that was the type of photography he was particularly known for. Definitely had a signature style but I just can’t put my finger on what is was that left me feeling nonplussed.
It is voyeuristic and doesn’t really represent ‘real’ women at all. It could only be appreciated for the technical merit, which is harder do when confronted with the deliberately controversial subjects though.