Helmut Newton once said, "Some people`s photography is an art. Mine is not. If they happen to be exhibited in a gallery or a museum, that`s fine. But that`s not why I do them. I`m a gun for hire." To many people, Helmut Newton is the father of fashion photographer. He was there at the beginning, and it's his images that helped shape the way many of the people that followed.
Born Helmut Neustädter, in Berlin, shortly after the First World War, to an American mother and a Jewish Father, Helmut spent his early years living in an increasingly oppressive time. After being issued with a passport at the age of 18, he left for Singapore, where he began his career as a portrait photographer. During his time in Singapore, he was interned by the British authorities and taken to Australia. He gained Australian citizenship following the end of the war, and subsequently changed his name to "Newton".
Newton established his own studio. where he worked on fashion and theatre photography. This established a reputation, which resulted in a commission from British Vogue for an Australian feature in the magazine. In 1957, he left for Britain, having won himself a 12 month contract with Vogue. Before completing his contract, Newton moved to Paris where carried on working as a fashion photographer, shooting for a variety of magazines, most notably, French Vogue and Harper's Bazaar.
Helmut Newton is famed for his erotic, stylised images. Often he would shoot women nude, with fetishistic undertones. The important thing to realise, however, is that he would always portray women with a sense of power. Working throughout the nineties, Helmut was photographing at the height of the supermodel era, capturing the likes of Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer and the like. He would always have a narrative within his images. They were always so much more than a simple photograph.
During the documentary, "Helmut By June", in which his wife records an intimate look at the man and his work, Helmut comes to the screen holding up his modern electronic camera and proclaims, "Everything is automatic! All I have to do is push the button. It's the camera that every amateur buys!". He then pauses, before pointing to his head and saying "It's all in there!". It's this idea that I think is lacking from so many photographers today. Sure it's important to know how your tools work, and how to get the best from them in any given situation, but essentially, all you need the camera to do is expose the image correctly. That's a technical thing. The creativity and art comes from pointing it in the right direction, making sure that what's in front of the camera is right. It's not about f stops and ISO's. It's about people, stories, and the ability to show people what it is that you see!
Helmut Newton died in 2004 in a car crash at his home in Southern California aged 83. He's buried in Berlin, next to Marlene Dietrich. If you haven't already, check out Helmut Newton's work, and look up the documentary on YouTube.