Helmut Newton Brings his Big Nudes Back to Berlin

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Source: Reuters/Variety

By: Clifford Coonan

(BERLIN) — A portrait of German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder is not what you would expect in an exhibition by photographer Helmut Newton, famed for his voyeuristic pictures of big, beautiful and generally naked women.

But Berlin-born Newton, who was back in his hometown on Monday to launch a major new retrospective of his work called “Helmut Newton: Work” is at his happiest when surprising an unwitting audience.

The photo of Schroeder clutching a battered briefcase hangs near a picture of a half-naked model wearing riding boots with a saddle on her back. Not far away is a picture of French extreme right-winger Jean-Marie le Pen with two Rottweiler dogs.

The exhibition features big-name models such as Naomi Campbell, Jerry Hall and Claudia Schiffer, pictured in varying states of undress in poses not normally seen on the catwalk.

“My attitude has changed a lot during the years. If you stand around, you rust. I have a great horror of rusting, particularly at my age. You need to keep developing different attitudes,” Newton said at the launch of the exhibition.

Newton turns 80 on Tuesday and decided to return to the city where he was born into a prominent Jewish family. He was forced to leave in 1938 because of Nazi restrictions on Jews and is now staging a show looking back at his work between 1960 and 2000.

Newton hates retrospectives because they imply that he has stopped working and he said he was determined to come up with new work for the show.

Courting Controversy

Newton has courted controversy with his depictions of sexual violence, sado-masochism and fetishism.

His fans call his photographs erotic masterpieces but many critics, leading feminists among them, have slammed aspects of his work, including depictions of women wearing leg irons, or bound and gagged.

He acknowledges that even though he is interested in other kinds of work, big nudes have become his trademark.

“I have been doing a number of landscape photographs for myself lately. But when I offer them to the magazines they say: ‘Helmut, we don’t want this, we want naked women!”’

“I am interested in power, be it sexual power or political power,” he said.

“But I’m also interested in powerlessness. A model fainted one day because of the heat where we were working. As they tried to revive her I was snapping away. They kept saying that I was so heartless.”

The kind of models he uses depends on the job but he says standards are dropping and that models were better 10 years ago.

“When I do a fashion shoot I’m not going to use an old lady. But for portraits it’s different. As far as models go, the ones today are too thin and too boring.”