I believe that the perfect fashion photo doesn´t look like a fashion photo; it looks more like a photo from a film, a portrait, or a photo taken to preserve a memory—somehow but not like a fashion photo. (Helmut Newton)

A gun for hire is how Helmut Newton sometimes used to describe himself. As someone commissioned by fashion labels, bathtub and car manufacturers, jewlery designers and hardware store chains to photograph their products, he created such unusual images, that they in part revolutionized product and fashion photography. Over 150 such photographs from the past two decades—which have not yet been shown in a museum context—are being presented at the Helmut Newton Foundation under the title A gun for hire. These include fashion photographs for Chanel, Yves Saint Laurent, Versace, Blumarine, or Mugler along with photo commissions for the editorial pages of Vogue and other clients.

It´s impossible to pin Helmut Newton down as the fashion photographer, the nude, or the portrait photographer. Spanning five decades, his work encompasses multiple genres and resists categorization. His fashion images underscore the styles of individual fashion labels, for example the traditionally classic look of Chanel, but for the most part they remain a step ahead of fashion. It is particularly interesting to compare the settings and compositions of photographs for different labels, the various accessories and backgrounds that demand their own pictorial language.

Helmut Newton owed his unparalleled success to the world of commerce, as he once stated. He always viewed his work for fashion labels, magazines, or other clients a source of inspiration and the editorial pages of fashion magazines as “a kind of laboratory”, in which he could consistently “try out new ideas”.

In Monte Carlo, where Newton lived since in the early eighties, he particularly liked to turn public spaces into open air studios. Over the years many photographs were taken in unusual settings: he held shootings in his own apartment, in the underground garage of his apartment house, in the Monte Carlo Beach Club, and at numerous construction sites in Monaco. Newton loved these contrasts. Switching backdrops with ease, he presented exclusive fashion in the context of rusty construction machinery and cement walls, which barely hint at the Mediterranean setting. Consumption, elegance, and voyeurism and the genres of fashion, beauty, and glamour photography come together to make up the inimitable and thoroughly intertwined melange of Helmut Newton´s oeuvre. His visualizations of various couturier designs are the result of a conscious approach that combines a focus on the demands of the commission with a free interpretation of the given fashion line. In this sense, Newton´s description of himself as a gun for hire is both a candid and provocative statement.

Matthias Harder

Selected Works