When it came to composition and style, the photographer Helmut Newton did not differentiate between magazine editorials and brand assignments, which were often arranged through advertising agencies. Self-ironically, he called himself “A Gun for Hire” — also the title of the posthumous exhibition of his commercial photography that was on display in 2005, first at the Grimaldi Forum in Monaco and then at his foundation in Berlin.
The new exhibition picks up where “A Gun for Hire” left off, showcasing photographs Newton shot mainly in the 1980s and 1990s for high-paying ad agencies and corporate clients, mostly in and around Monaco. In the first three exhibition rooms, we will be able to encounter fashion images for the luxury sector, for example, Newton’s interpretations of Yves Saint Laurent fashion, haute couture and prêt-à-porter. His photographic staging are as diverse and individual from season to season as the women’s fashion he depicted. They sometimes transcend reality, transporting us to distant and fantastical spheres.
Also featured are Newton’s commissioned works for Wolford, which were published in 1993 and 1994 as calendars for exclusive customers. These images were not only used for pantyhose packaging but also as extra-large formats for billboards, public buses and building facades. Pictured in pantyhose and tight-fitting bodysuits, the women modeling them sometimes appeared to be giants in the public space. The first three rooms of the exhibition also display advertising photographs of different designers’ creations for the American luxury department store chain Neiman Marcus, along with examples from Newton’s many years of close collaboration with Anna Molinari and her label Blumarine, featuring models such as Monica Bellucci, Carla Bruni and Carré Otis, realized in Nice and Monaco in 1993 and 1994.
Supplementing the presentation are photographs from other collaborations, with, among others, Swarovski, Volkswagen and Chanel. In the mid-1970s, Newton even shot two ad campaigns for the famous perfume Chanel No 5 with Catherine Deneuve.
Select Polaroids, analogue contact sheets from advertising shoots, look-books from fashion clients, and magazine ads are spread out in display cases, pointing out the diverse uses of Newton’s advertising photography.
Newton’s collaboration with fashion brands outside of magazine shoots began early on. For example, from 1962 to 1970 he worked with Nino-Moden from Nordhorn, Germany’s largest textile company at that time, and shot for the London-based Biba catalogue in 1968. That same year, he took a commission from the French car manufacturer Citroën. For decades, Newton staged everyday and luxury products, becoming a link between producers and consumers through his photographs and their publication. His visual narratives were universally understandable, so magazine publishers could easily include them in their different country editions, whether as imagery accompanying articles or as advertising.
The series are featured for the first time as part of a retrospective of Helmut Newton’s advertising photography. This often underestimated yet influential area of applied photography deals with the intentional visualization of specific products. In Newton’s case, these included women’s pantyhose, evening gowns, ground coffee, television sets, saw blades, silverware, red wine, cars, wristwatches, costume jewelry and cigars. Sometimes Newton made the objects the centre of attention, placing them literally on a pedestal, while in other images, they are relegated to the sidelines. Ultimately, creating commercial photography for advertising was one of the most important aspects of Newton’s work. That is why the exhibition “Helmut Newton. Brands”, with over 100 virtually unknown photographs, is vital for comprehensive and systematic analysis of his work.
The current group exhibition “Hollywood” on the first floor as well as “Magnum Photos. The Misfits” in the project room on the ground floor are on view through 20th November 2022.
Helmut Newton Foundation
Museum of Photography
Jebensstrasse 2, 10623 Berlin
* This story by Tanja Beljanski first appeared in the October 2022 issue of L'Officiel Arabia.