By Sylvia Gobbel
The first time I met Helmut Newton was when my agency sent me to a casting call for French Vogue for the haute couture summer collections which were shot by Helmut Newton. I was 19 and had been in Paris for just two weeks. A long line of beautiful models was waiting to be recieved by the master and suddenly Helmut stood up, looked at me and asked me to step forward….He interviewed me about my origins and since I’m Austrian, we started to speak German immediatly together. Helmut spoke a very fine and charming upperclass German from Berlin, which pleased my ear.
He told me that he would love to shoot the haute couture French Vogue with me but was much more interested in seeing if I would like to shoot some nudes for his next book. I had never posed nude before, but, since I loved his work, I accepted right away.
Helmut was tired that day; he just had his third heart attack and he was in convalescents.
Soon we shot for French Vogue and, a few days after, our first nude titled Sylvia In My Studio. At that time Helmut still had his studio in Paris (rue de L’Abbé de l’Epée), where he was living with his wife June. After makeup and hair, just so I wouldn’t be embarrassed in front of everyone, Helmut sent everybody else home. The only person who remained with us was June, who made the shoot really comfortable for me.
June and Helmut were the most loving couple I’ve ever met. Such a complicity, so much sense of humor and tenderness…
We worked until late at night and we shot a great pic standing at the window, while it was dark outside….I had to wear very high heel shoes, such as Louboutins, but in the eighties you only could find those kind of shoes in Pigalle, the shopping and working area for prostitutes and transvestites. Helmut loved to go shopping in that neighborhood for his shoots, because he could find all kinds of strange accessories for his work.
After that first shoot I had the chance to work with Helmut quite a bit. I was his muse for a few years…You can see many of the nudes that we did together at Helmut Newton: White Women • Sleepless Nights • Big Nudes, currently at the Annenberg Space for Photography. I also had the chance to be on the cover of his book, Big Nudes (published in 1981) which he dedicated to me. We shot lots of campaigns together such as VERSACE POMELLATO AMICA..etc. I lost contact with Helmut once I stopped working as a model. My biggest regret is that I didn’t meet him one last time to thank him for everything he did for me.
Images of Sylvia Gobbel modeling for Helmut Newton can be seen in Helmut Newton: White Women • Sleepless Nights • Big Nudes. For more information about Gobbel, please see her official website here.