Helmut Newton: A retrospective

A look at one of fashion's most iconic photographers

August might just be the perfect month to treat yourself to a mini break in Amsterdam, writes Siân Parry…

Of course there are the canals, parks, great food and incredible art. But this summer, the pretty Dutch capital also boasts a breathtaking retrospective of Helmut Newton, one of the most iconic and influential fashion photographers of the 20th century.

Women are at the core of Newton’s work: his most famous images are from the 70s & 80s and coincided with the feminist movement. These women are erotic, but also powerful and in control – even more so when all they wear is pair of high heels.

Catherine Deneuve, Esquire, Paris 1976 © Helmut Newton Estate / Maconochie Photography

‘I met Helmut Newton in Paris for a casting,’ says Sylvia Gobbel, one of Newton’s favourite models. ‘He asked me if I was OK with nudes? I said OK right away,because I knew his wonderful work.’

That 1981 photo shoot – four models dressed, and then in the same poses naked – became one of the best-known fashion images of the 1980s. Sylvia would work with Newton throughout that highly creative period.

‘For one job, Helmut needed to shoot men’s trenchcoats,’ Sylvia says, ‘but he didn’t like to work with male models. So he had me stand in front of the mirror and he wore the trenchcoat himself. His wife came up to have lunch and he told her to sit down. She watched him working, but didn’t know that she was in the shot!’

Self Portrait with Wife and Models, Vogue Studio, Paris 1981 © Helmut Newton Estate / Maconochie Photography

That’s the story behind the iconic image ‘Self Portrait with Wife & Models Paris 1981’, one of the highlights of the show. There are over 200 groundbreaking images, including rarely seen original prints from the Helmut Newton  Foundation as well as the famous Big Nudes. The exhibition fills every room at the Fotografiemuseum (Foam), a world-class gallery with a pretty canalside location.

Yves Saint Laurent, French Vogue, Rue Aubriot, Paris 1975 © Helmut Newton Estate / Maconochie Photography

Newton worked closely with some of the greatest designers of the time, like Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld.  So it’s no surprise that the main sponsor of this exhibition is the legendary hosiery brand Wolford, for whom Newton produced a series of images in the 1990s. One of the most striking rooms at the exhibition is dedicated to these images and a beautiful sculpture by artist Sayuri Chetti, made using Wolford fabrics.

This marks the start of a long term program for Wolford to promote female artists. Beauty, intelligence, seduction, style and power. It worked for Helmut Newton’s world-changing subjects. It can work for all of us. Go and see the show while you can.

Helmut Newton – A Retrospective, sponsored by Wolford, is at Foam Amsterdam until September 4.

X-Ray, Van Cleef & Arpels, French Vogue, 1994 © Helmut Newton Estate / Maconochie Photography

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