One of the photography world’s most provocative artists, Helmut Newton’s story is told by the women who knew him best: those who lived with him, inspired him and disrobed for his lens.
Screened as part of NZIFF 2021
Responsible for more than his share of controversy throughout the history of fashion photography, German shooter Helmut Newton and his legacy of boldly erotic imagery receives a venerated overview from those who worked and played with the artist. While many acclaimed fashion photographers now face a reckoning for their predatory behaviour, Newton is remembered fondly as a gentle genius with a childlike penchant for mischief.
Followers of fashion from the 60s onwards will be familiar with Newton’s often imitated style: strong female figures in stylised scenes of eroticism, elements of the fetishistic pushing against social mores. Celebrities including Claudia Schiffer, Grace Jones and Charlotte Rampling recount the stories behind their famous images, describing a convivial artist whose true personality seems to run counter to the controversial persona generated by his works.
The documentary recounts Newton’s early life in the decadent Weimar Republic before his Jewish family were forced to weather the rise of Nazism. In 1938 the family fled Germany, but not before the Aryan beauty standards and photography of Leni Riefenstahl left an indelible impression on the future artist. Eventually arriving in Australia where he would meet his longtime wife June, Newton takes the trauma of his upbringing and processes it through the confronting, sexy style that would make him a star.
There is a lot to be unpacked in Newton’s practice and continuing influence on the photography industry, but that is not the film’s primary concern. Instead, audiences are treated to an array of affectionate remembrances from the impressive women who best represent the ideals that so infatuated this audacious artist. — Adrian Hatwell