Helmut Newton

Date/place of birth

October 31, 1920, Berlin, Germany

Day/place of death

January 23, 2004, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, California, United States


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Helmut Newton biography

Helmut Newton became an icon of international photography with the glamorously bleak aesthetic of his nude pictures; the German-Australian artist, once expelled from Berlin by the National Socialists, always remained closely connected to his city of birth.

Helmut Newton – Photographic apprenticeship with Yva; escape to Australia

Helmut Newton was born Helmut Neustädter on 31 October 1920 in Berlin. The son of a wealthy Jewish button manufacturer, he was more interested in sport, girls and photography at school because his teachers were friendly, and was already on the lookout for suitable motifs in the Berlin underground from the age of twelve. His father, however, was not impressed with his son’s inclination and predicted a future in the gutter for the fifteen-year-old school dropout. Supported by his mother, however, Newton began a photography apprenticeship with Yva (Else Simon), a well-known Berlin photographer at that time, but who was murdered in 1942 by the National Socialists in the Sobibor extermination camp. When his teacher was banned from her profession and was forced to close her studio, the Jewish Newton also fled from the Nazis to Singapore. There he landed a position as pictorial journalist for the newspaper Singapore Straits Times, but was dismissed after only two weeks for incompetence. Following this setback, he moved to Australia. 

International breakthrough as fashion and nude photographer

Helmut Newton initially worked in his new home as a lorry driver until he could open his first photo studio in Melbourne in 1945. However, wedding photos and catalogue shots did little to satisfy Newton’s artistic ambition. He met the Australian actress June Brown in his photo studio in 1947 and they married the following year; June Newton later went on to have success also as a photographer under the artist’s name Alice Springs. In the 1950s, Helmut Newton established himself as a permanent photographer for Australian Vogue, giving his career a decisive push. He was commissioned by numerous magazines throughout Europe and the USA and in the decades that followed he advanced to become one of the world’s most sought-after and highest paid fashion, portrait and nude photographers. His first illustrated book was published in 1976, White Women in which the photographer staged the models mostly in glamourous surroundings, in statuesque poses, strong, dark and mysterious, sometimes even aggressive. This idiosyncratic pictorial aesthetic culminated in the portfolio volume Big Nudes which appeared in 1982 and finally gave Newton the status of international superstar – by this time, the artist was already 60 years old. 

Controversial and admired; darling of the rich and beautiful

Helmut Newton’s sometimes drastic and provocative nudes often caused public controversy. Feminists such as Alice Schwarzer accused him of sexism, with the unauthorised publication of Newton’s pictures alongside a critical article in the feminist magazine EMMA leading to a legal dispute, which the photographer won. The artist himself rejected all such accusations with the reasoning that ultimately, he loved all women and that his work was an expression of his admiration. This dispute did nothing to diminish his fame, with international celebrities crowding enthusiastically in front of his lens, among them Andy Warhol, David Bowie, Catherine Deneuve and David Lynch, as well as working for Playboy, Elle, the Queen and Stern. Helmut Newton received prizes and awards for his photographic work including the Grand Federal Cross of Merit in 1992 and the Berlin Bear in 1994. 

Helmut Newton died in a car crash in Los Angeles on 23 January. According to his wishes, he was buried in his hometown of Berlin.

© Kunsthaus Lempertz

Helmut Newton Prices

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