Helmut Newton: And Behind Every Great Man

© Estate of Helmut Newton

By Vibeke Knudsen

Rue Aubriot is one of the most enduring photographs I have had the privilege of being a part of.

It was the last shot in a series of photographs for the collections for French Vogue. Working with Helmut Newton was always “charged," as he was a god among fashion photographers.

The shoot took place at night. That was the only time that the collections were available for photography. We had breezed through the other shots and it was about 2 am when we pulled up in front of Helmut’s studio to do this last shot in the street.

As I came out of the (small) mini van, where we changed outfits, and stood under a single streetlight, it very quickly became clear that the energy had shifted and heightened.

It wasn’t just that the photographer was Helmut, the editor for the shoot was Francine Cressant, the hairdresser was Alexandre (lui meme), the makeup artist Jacques Clement, and that the suit being shot was a perfect example of YSL - at his best. It was, indeed, a collaboration of masters of their trade… and then there was a moment of magic thrown in. It seemed that we were all aware that something special was attached to the moment.

Helmut insisted on shooting with the streetlight only, which meant I had to stand completely still for two seconds - that’s a long time in stilettoes on cobblestones!

At this point, the atmosphere was that of total focus. No one but Helmut spoke.

While he was shooting, Helmut asked us all to come back the following night. He was already planning his next shot. He wanted me to use the same pose with a nude model (Aya) standing next to me. I was asked to wear the same suit. Aya was not completely nude in this shot; she wore high heels and a hat with a veil. Helmut included both shots in his book, White Women.

Since then, the two photographs have often appeared side by side. They have remained relevant, modern and perfectly classic.

There have been many attempts to replicate this photo, many ”inspirations” to ”duplicate” this photo. I have been part of a few indirect homages and even when they were beautiful, they have always fallen short.

Such is the special vision, focus and quality of Helmut Newton. All hail to the king!

And as for ”behind every great man, stands a great woman.” Never was this more true than in the collaboration of Helmut and June. June Newton, aka Alice Springs, was Helmut’s muse, inspiration and partner. June is a wonderful photographer in her own right and Helmut was her greatest fan. The woman behind Helmut was a part of his greatness.

I feel very fortunate to have worked as much as I did with Helmut Newton and very proud to be the model in Rue Aubriot. Thank you Helmut, thank you June.

Vibeke Knudsen was born in Denmark and has worked as a model in Europe and America for 40 years. In the 70's she often worked with Helmet Newton and considers herself fortunate to have collaborated with many of her profession's most gifted photographers. She now spends her time traveling. See this image and over 100 others at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Helmut Newton: White Women • Sleepless Nights • Big Nudes.

Douglas Bergeron On Helmut Newton's 'Rue Aubriot'


© Estate of Helmut Newton

Last month we presented you the point of view of the above photo (Rue Aubriot) by Helmut Newton from the very model featured in the famous image: Vibeke Knudsen. Today, we bring you the perspective from Knuden's husband, Douglas Bergeron, who is a writer, art historian and art collector.

By Douglas Bergeron

Helmut Newton’s black & white photo, Rue Aubriot, represents the extension of a long artistic tradition dedicated to showing femmes fatales, erotic vampires and alluring denizens of the Paris night. Charles Baudelaire’s spirit curls around the German photographers tableau, where we see echoes of Nadar’s early monochrome photos of great poets & artists. However, it is Brassai’s photographic depictions of his venuses of the crossroads- pictures of Parisian street walkers taken in the early 1930s, which are most often mentioned as an influence on Newton’s work.

In Rue Aubriot, Vibeke Knudsen wears a pinstripped suit (Le Smoking) designed by Yves Saint Laurent. She holds a cigarette with her hair slicked back. The model recalls the androgynous music hall performers of the Weimer republic seen in Otto Dix’s paintings of the period. Newton’s famous photo has been reproduced so many times that it has become an icon in his oeuvre, & like many icons, the image has found a meaning of its own that is decoupled from the influences that may have inspired it.

Androgyny. Woman’s lib. The power of branding: Vibeke’s elegant YSL pant suit can be seen as a symbol of woman’s empowerment & her androgynous appearance illustrates the new norm of contemporary culture. Label:  Today’s heroines must follow a necessary ritual. They wrap themselves in designer names that amplify their power. These names are muttered like an open sesame, an incantation that gives them access to the red carpet.

Perhaps the power of Newton’s photo lies in its classical simplicity, which is highlighted by the subtle gradations of its black and white palette. The modern fashion photograph has become the repository of those classical traditions of posing spawned by early Greek sculpture, traditions that were repeated through the Renaissance and well into the 19th Century. It is on the pages of today’s fashion magazines that our ideals of beauty are preserved and promoted - frozen in poses as old as the Elgin marbles. The classical purity of Newton’s night composition, made on the Rue Aubriot, is etched with a clarity that makes his model much more than just a sophisticated hanger for a fine suit of clothes. Vibeke Knudsen’s still pose and sharp, frozen, silhouette takes her outside the moving processes of time. Rue Aubroit’s streetlamps crystallize Vibeke’s image, transforming her into a dark angel of light that somehow remains beyond our reach.

But Newton’s photo has also made his model part of a famous troop of artfully rendered beauties. Rue Aubroit now hangs amongst a time-honored collection of well-known portraits devoted to those alluring queens of seduction that have decorated the Parisian night.  Rue Aubriot both captures and transcends the spirit of a decade and has become one of the perfect instants of contemporary, post-modern visual mythology. Helmut Newton’s photo will linger in our collective memory for many generations to come.

See this image and over 100 others at the Annenberg Space for Photography in Helmut Newton: White Women • Sleepless Nights • Big Nudes.

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