Helmut Newton (1920 – 2004) was a German-Australian photographer. The New York Times described him as a “prolific, widely imitated fashion photographer whose provocative, erotically charged black-and-white photos were a mainstay of Vogue and other publications. Born to a Jewish family in Berlin in 1920, Newton received his first camera at 12 years old, often neglecting his studies in school to pursue photography.
As a teenager, Newton worked as an apprentice to theater photographer Yva in Berlin. He fled increasing Nazi oppression in Germany in 1938, shortly after Kristallnacht, and worked in Singapore and Australia during World War II, serving in the Australian army for several years. He later opened up a photography studio and returned to Europe in the 1950s. In Paris, he began working for French Vogue, and later Harper’s Bazaar, Playboy, Elle, and other publications during the 1950s and 1960s as his reputation grew, traveling frequently throughout the world on assignments.
Known for the dramatic lighting and unconventional poses of his models in his photographs, Newton’s work has been characterized as obsessive and subversive, incorporating themes of sadomasochism, prostitution, violence, and persistently overt sexuality into the narratives of his images. He increasingly focused more on these images rather than fashion photography in the 1970s, publishing several books of his work such as White Women (1976), Big Nudes (1981), and World Without Men (1984).
He continued to travel later in life, dividing his time between his homes in Monte Carlo and Los Angeles. In 2003, he died in a car crash in Los Angeles, at 84 years old. Among other honors, Newton received the German Kodak Award for Photographic Books, a Life Legend Award from Life magazine, and an award from the American Institute for Graphic Arts. As a photographer who straddled the gap between art and commerce, Helmut Newton always managed to surprise and polarize his audience. Among the editorial staff of many magazines, he encountered creative kindred spirits, who responded to his unusual visual ideas. The result was a body of photographs that were not only exceptionally recognizable and successful but also reached millions of viewers through magazine publications.