NSFW – Art & Photography: Helmut Newton

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I’ve read many articles about Helmut Newton and his work and if I’ve read correctly, he was apparently a fetishist, a pervert, a misogynist as well as a genius and visionary (great little multi-tasker he was ey). Not to mention, his work was ground-breaking and empowering for women… but it may also have been sexist, unoriginal and flat out just ‘not art’. After sieving through a plethora of diverging opinions, I couldn’t help but question my own judgment… Have I been giving meaning and depth to work that doesn’t actually have any? Am I missing the fact that Newton was just some dirty ol’ geezer looking to satiate his own sexual appetite through a lens? Is his work purely erotica with the sole purpose of objectifying women? Am I a poor naive idiot?

Mr Newton himself was adamant that he loved women. The models he photographed confirmed it too and fervently defended him, affirming that his work glorified their beauty and did in fact make them feel empowered. The whole ‘woman dressed as a man’ idea may be an overdone cliché these days, but I’m assuming that it was quite the statement at the time, was it not? Or was it purely a symptom of Newton’s obsession with fetishism? A way for him to fulfill his dominant/submissive fantasies perhaps (watching 50 Shades of Grey came in handy after all, hurrah)?

The way he portrays women seems cold, almost plastic at times… some might even say vacant. I see breasts and buttocks, women posing suggestively or with a male hand on their breast – as I’ve read: depicted as objects of male sexual desire. Like Barbie dolls. In passing, Newton was referred to as the ‘King of Kink’ and may also have made a porn film.

Then again, I also see women in their most vulnerable state, taking powerful stances, at ease with their nudity, comfortable with their sexuality, provocative but never vulgar – and nothing vulnerable about them whatsoever. I don’t see victims, nor do I see shallow vessels. I look at the detachment on their faces and I see modern women who live for themselves, do what they want regardless of social diktats and traditional gender definitions.Of course his photographs are sexually charged, but always in a way which I deem sensual, playful and respectful. They may not be fully clothed but they are clearly not yours for the taking – they are in control. So the man has his hand on her chest, does she look like she’s complaining…

Kinky and pervy though he may be, I personally consider his work to be art and admit that he is in fact one of my favourite photographers (as my mother says, there’s just no accounting for taste). What I see in his photographs is what matters to me. In my mind, these women exude confidence and epitomize freedom (in every sense), independence, strength and beauty. They’re inspirational. They’re amazons. They would find a very welcoming home on my walls at home.

PS: If you’re wondering what to get me for my birthday… hint hint.

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Mannequins, Quai D'Orsay I, 1977
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