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Helmut Newton Biography

Born Helmut Neustädter in 1920 to a well-to-do Berlin family, Helmut Newton purchased his first camera at 12 and as a teenager apprenticed with noted German theatrical photographer Yva (Else Simon).  Due to the passing of the anti-Semitic Nuremberg Laws in 1935, his father was briefly interned in a concentration camp.  In 1938 Newton’s parents were forced to flee to Chile; and the 18-year-old Newton traveled alone to Singapore.

Helmut Newton, Los Angeles, Polaroid, 1980
David Fahey.
From the exhibit film by Arclight Productions.

In 1940 Newton was interned by British authorities as an “enemy alien” and shipped to Australia, where he was placed in a camp from 1940 to 1942.  He was released to serve in the Australian Army until the end of the war, gaining Australian citizenship in 1945 and changing his name to Newton.  Finally a free agent, he opened a photography studio in Melbourne and met his wife, June Browne.  She went on to play an integral role in Newton’s career: she modeled for him, curated his exhibitions, and edited his books (including the three publications the MFAH exhibition is based on).  She also became a photographer herself, shooting under the pseudonym Alice Springs.

During the 1950s Newton shot for British and Australian Vogue, and settled in 1961 in Paris, where Newton joined French Vogue.  As American Vogue editor Anna Wintour states in the exhibition catalogue, Newton’s work went on to be “synonymous with Vogue at its most glamorous and mythic.”  Newton helped transform fashion photography from a mere photographic report of current styles to an alluring presentation with mise-en-scène and a narrative.  In addition to his magazine work, Newton was much sought-after for commissions by a variety of institutions, from fashion houses and jewelry designers to car manufacturers.  In many cases, Newton would be on a professional shoot and adjust the shots to become more sexually suggestive, adding these second “takes” to his personal body of work.

The Helmut Newton Foundation was established in Berlin in 2003.  Newton died in January 2004 at 83.

Helmut Newton: White Women • Sleepless Nights • Big Nudes is on view at the Annenberg Space for Photography from June 29 - September 8, 2013.