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Helmut Newton: Exposed

Culture Watch
Helmut Newton, photographed by Irving Penn

Rarely does the work of a fashion photographer transcend the visual ranks to fine art. Yet, the images conjured by the late great lensman Helmut Newton could be described as nothing less. At one time considered lowbrow and vulgar, his iconic images will forever influence the medium and influence generations of photographers to come.

This week, Newton enters the spotlight once more at the Foam Museum in Amsterdam, in the exhibition “Helmut Newton – A Retrospective.” The exhibit, produced in collaboration with Wolford, will include a large collection of vintage early prints and monumental works from the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin.

Newton prospered as an artist in the environment of social change that evolved between the 1970s and 1980s. Historically, this period also marks the rise of second wave feminism. As a response, traditionally feminine styles are deemed oppressive and eschewed in favor of more practical, streamlined silhouettes (like Yves Saint Laurent’s Le Smoking tuxedo).

Newton celebrated the new feminism with his camera, presenting women in unforgivingly empowered poses. Newton managed to capture the female nude in a way that is at once timeless and specific as he evolved parallel to a movement that specifically criticized female objectification. You will rarely catch a soft curve in a Newton composition, save for those in the natural form of his subject. In this decision lies perhaps the principal creed second wave feminism failed to address—femininity is, inherently, powerful.

The most-visited photography museum of the Netherlands, Foam is giving over its entire building to the retrospective, which will no doubt be a highlight of the summer art circuit.

All images copyright Helmut Newton Foundation.


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