Helmut Newton Legacy

At Palazzo Reale the retrospective of the rebel genius

by Stefanella Ebhardt
Helmut Newton at Palazzo Reale in Milan — Lombardia Secrets

At Palazzo Reale in Milan, the exhibition celebrates the entire career of Helmut Newton, one of the most important photographers in the world who revolutionized the fashion and costume of the 20th century.

Located on the main floor of Palazzo Reale, Helmut Newton Legacy is a retrospective of over 250 photographs, magazines, documents, and videos about the artist, offering a complete view of the style, uniqueness, and provocative side of one of the most beloved and revolutionary fashion photographers of all time. Divided into chronological sections, in addition to iconic images, the exhibition shows also precious unpublished shots presented for the first time in Italy.

The event, produced in collaboration with the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin to celebrate the centenary of the photographer’s birth (Berlin, 1920 – Los Angeles, 2004), can be visited until June 25th, 2023, and covers all phases of the photographer’s career, revealing unknown aspects of his artistic work.

Helmut Newton at Palazzo Reale in Milan — Lombardia Secrets
Helmut Newton at Palazzo Reale in Milan — Lombardia Secrets

One must always live up to one’s bad reputation. (Helmut Newton)

Helmut Neustädter, born into a wealthy Jewish family in Berlin, began experimenting with the art of photography at the age of 16 in the studio of photographer Yva. In the late 1930s, due to the racial laws, he left Germany and, after a period in China, moved to Australia in 1940. Here he joined the army where he met his future wife, June Browne, his beloved muse who was also a photographer under the pseudonym of Alice Springs.

In 1956, working with the name Helmut Newton, he began collaborating with Henry Talbot in his studio specialized in fashion advertising and got his first works with Vogue Australia and Vogue UK. It was the beginning of a career in the fashion world that would explode after his return to Europe in the early 1960s, thanks to the collaborations with Queen magazine and the French editions of Vogue and Elle. During this period, in Paris, he also began his partnership with fashion legends such as Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, for whom he would create some of his most daring and sensual shots.

Helmut Newton at Palazzo Reale in Milan — Lombardia Secrets

In the 1970s, his images broke the codes of traditional fashion photography, overturning classic sets and using models in unconventional ways. Several images exhibited in the show display his ingenious creativity, such as fashion shoots taken on a helicopter, on a wild beach in Hawaii, and in lascivious Parisian hotels at night.

In his photographs, women get the power, their bodies are celebrated, made plastic, powerful, glorious, while men often remain a collateral element to the scene. Each shot tells a story, such as the famous Rue Aubriot portrait where a garçonne, dressed in Yves Saint Laurent clothing, smokes on the street at night, captured by the photographer on the same street where he lived with his wife.

Helmut Newton at Palazzo Reale in Milan — Lombardia Secrets

Moving on to the 1980s, one is literally overwhelmed by the imperious image of the models and their bodies that Newton made monumental. In the Big Nudes, life-size nude photos, the body is exaggerated by the giant, blow-up format and emphasized from a frontal point of view. From the same years also the Naked and Dressed series which tells a new visual concept which consists in making the same models pose, with and without clothes, in identical postures.

A unique signature style, that communicates eroticism and sensuality while remaining always elegant and ironic, even in the most “controversial” themes such as fetish or voyeurism.

Helmut Newton at Palazzo Reale in Milan — Lombardia Secrets

In the 1990s, Helmut Newton’s work conquered not only the world of fashion (collaborating, among others, with Chanel, Versace and Dolce&Gabbana), but also various cultural spheres: in fact, his images began to establish themselves in the market with important quotations, helping to elevate photography to a recognized form of art.

Newton’s approach became even more avant-garde and he received awards in France, Monaco, and Germany – such as the Grand Prix National de la Photographie won in 1990 – as a recognition of his ability to redefine fashion photography from an artistic and socio-cultural perspective.

Helmut Newton at Palazzo Reale in Milan — Lombardia Secrets

Of great interest in the exhibition are Polaroids and contact sheets that help us understand Newton’s creative process, while archival materials and documentary videos help reconstruct the context in which the inspiration of this extraordinary artist was born.

The Secret

In his 2004 autobiography, Newton explains that full-figure nudes were inspired by the posters distributed by the German police which, dealing with the fight against the terrorism of the Rote Armee Fraktion, used to print posters of wanted criminals in life-size format.

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