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Photographs by Helmut Newton on View at Weserburg Museum fur Moderne Kunst
The Arielle Portfolio I-X, 1982-1999, © Helmut Newton Estate

BREMEN.- “Bullshit! I love the girls; that’s nothing but a feminist misunderstanding.” This was how Helmut Newton several years ago countered the reproach from Alice Schwarzer, the editor-in-chief of Emma, who claimed that he and his nude photographs were sexist, even racist. Newton was used to rejection. His precisely staged photographs, with their deliberately presented sexuality, were acts of social provocation right from the beginning. In the nineteen-sixties, his pictures burst the borders of traditional fashion photography, summoned up a new image of woman and, for that precise reason, made him one of the most famous and highly paid photographers of the twentieth century. From May 31 to December 31, 2008, the Weserburg, Bremen’s Museum for Modern Art, honors Newton’s pioneering artistic production with a comprehensive exhibition: To be seen upon some 750 square meters of exhibition surface are 120 works from numerous private and museum collections.

Helmut Newton—Photographs covers the wide spectrum of this revolutionary specialist in fashion- and nude-photography. In addition to the large-format, life-sized Big Nudes, for which Newton derived inspiration from police-investigation photos of the RAF terrorists, there are also on display works from the various photographic series in which the artist laid out the defining motifs of his artistic imagination. Suspenseful nocturnal scenes in a big-city hotel, which give the impression of being part of a film narration, are situated alongside portraits of the stars from the dazzling world of glamour. The photographer of the beautiful and famous, who worked regularly for major fashion magazines throughout the world, never kept to the narrow confines of commissioned work; instead he used the fashion industry as a stage. “With his photographic stagings, Newton gave a visual rendition of woman’s self-aware sexuality in a revolutionary manner,” comments Carsten Ahrens, the director of the Weserburg. “In these photographs, woman never appears as an object of masculine power, but instead as the mistress of her own sexuality. In defiance of all the hostility heaped upon him, not only from clerical and bourgeois quarters but also from leading feminists, he conjured up a new image of woman, one that is characterized by emancipated self-awareness.”

Moreover, the exhibition provides insights into the turbulent life of Helmut Newton who—born in Berlin in 1920 as the son of Jewish parents—was able, thanks to his dauntless mother, to flee from Germany in 1938, traveling first to Singapore and then to Australia. At the end of the nineteen-fifties, Newton returned to Europe with his wife June, with little money and grand dreams, first to London and then to Paris, where he began his career as a photographer for Vogue, Elle and Queen. He discovered the decisive motifs for his work in the red-light districts of the city. The nineteen-seventies saw the appearance, with White Women, Sleepless Nights and Big Nudes, of the first books of photographs by Newton, which established his status as a photographic artist. The married couple lived in Monaco and Los Angeles until a tragic automobile accident in January 2004 brought an abrupt end to the life of Helmut Newton.

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May 31, 2008

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