On Saturday the 5th of May 2001, interviewer and writer for The Guardian Newspaper Lindsay Baker interviewed Helmut Newton. She wrote the article, ‘Helmut Newton: a perverse romantic’ To which her captive opening lines were, “Dramatic and beautiful, maybe, but are his photographs also misogynist, cruel and pornographic?”. She goes on to write, “Newton considers himself a ‘feminist’ who celebrates triumphant, strong women. You decide”.
These opening lines where the first thing that I read and immediately made me question why she placed the feminism aspect of Newton’s works into the opening lines. From this questioning that I found myself doing I realised that Baker (who wrote the piece) clearly found her self deeply confused by Newton’s reasoning for his imagery. The whole notion of him classing himself as a feminist and yet he objectifies women, yes often in a beautifying manner, however with an underlining essence of subjectivity.
Here are my notes from the article:-
- “In 1936 Newton was an apprentice to Yva a society photographer, who inspired him along with his good friend, Brassai and Erich Saloman”.
- “He fetishises high heels”.
- “In the 70s Newton blazed the trail of ‘porno-chic'”
- “His outrageous 1976 picture of a model kneeling on a bed with a Hermes saddle on her back enraged many women. He says it meant as a playful subversion, ‘You see so many images of women riding men'”.
- “Nowadays his comic nihilism has become the prevailing mood in fashion photography, and his once-extreamist vision of decadent luxury and cruel chic – and, of course, the exposure of bare flesh – have emerged as the norm”.
When talking to Baker about his woman with the saddle on her back Newton become rather cross due to baker saying that,“its a funny shot in its absurdity but equally I can see why it might be offensive”. To which Newton Replies,” As far as I can tell, and women friends have told me, the feminist movement has evolved into something more serious”. He goes on to audaciously count himself as a feminist, “I’m against this ghetto that women are put in, often by themselves, ‘women photographers’, ‘women artists’, what counts is the work”.
- With Newtons chilling film like crime scenes still’s he as taken inspiration from pseudo paparazzi scenes.
- when talking about his princess Caroline of Monaco shot Newton said, “I think royals can be as boring as everyone else, but they can also be pretty wild people”.
- Newton would love to photograph Camilla Parker-Bowles, “It’s something to do with the power – she’s an interesting woman”.
- Newton’s obsessions, “Power and sex. Sec and power. How sex makes you powerful”.
The next quote from Newton really intrested me, as it adds to the personal profile that I am building of him as to what he was like as an individual and a photographer. When asked if he would say he’s a romantic person Newton replies with,“I’m romantic about funny things, but in my pictures I reject it”. I found this quote of particularly intrest as it explains further why his images are so cold and calculated.
- The final quote from this article that really grabbed my attention and made me think further about his works in relation to the power dynamics that evidently run through the frames. Raquel Welch commented, “Here you are, thinking Helmut is this little sweetie pie, this little honeybun, and here he has this perverse lens trained on you. There was such a paradox”. This quote is really interesting as It slightly brush’s the surface of Laura mulvey’s ‘male gaze’, which I am going to delve into further with my next blog post.
Personally i feel that Newton’s works can not be placed into any one category, pornographic, erotic, boudoir , empowering, objectifying, or even exploiting. His works are highly subjective, they hold different personalities, traits and powers dependant on the individual viewing the works.
The article can be found at this web address – http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2001/may/05/weekend.lindsaybaker