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Helmut Newton: In Focus


Helmut Newton is celebrated and known as a prolific 20th century photographer that revolutionised the fashion world. His provocative and sexually charged work earned him the title of “King of Kink” and he would come to be the most sought after fashion photographer of his time. But outside of his flourishing photography career, little attention is paid to his early life and Jewish roots. It is these formative years prior to his meteoric rise that form the basis of Helmut Newton: In Focus at the Jewish Museum of Australia. 

“Newton’s story as a detained refugee, enemy alien, but also a contributor to the thriving Melbourne fashion scene is at the heart of our exhibition,” explains Eleni Papavasileiou, Senior Curator and Collection Manager at the Jewish Museum of Australia.

Leaving his home town of Berlin in 1938 following Nazi occupation of Germany, Newton sought refuge in Singapore, where he was deported to Melbourne and detained in Tatura alongside other German and Italian refugees. Not much is known about his detainment as an “enemy alien” however he would go on to serve in the Australian army for five years before spending the next decade refining his craft from his studio on 353 Flinders Lane, with the support of the local Melbourne Jewish community. However the sexual norms of Melbourne’s fashion world was conservative at best, and Newton would grow to find the culture stifling to his creativity. In the early 60s he left behind his career in Australia for a contract at British Vogue, however it wasn’t until moving to Paris shortly after that Newton finally felt satisfied.

“I still believe that the perfect fashion photograph is a photograph that does not look like a fashion photograph. It’s a photograph that looks like something out of a movie, like a portrait, maybe a souvenir shot, maybe a paparazzi shot, anything but a fashion photograph.”  - Helmut Newton

The Helmut Newton: In Focus exhibition shows unseen and rediscovered work, shining a light on the mystery of his earlier works. He is well known for his provocative, polarising and sexualised photography that blurred the lines between Vogue and Playboy. These works would be branded as “pornography chic”. Newton was the first major fashion photographer to introduce sexuality into high fashion and it's these traits that provide a bit of an answer as to why he kept his Australian work under wraps. Growing up in cutting-edge Berlin and mentored by Yva, whose style featured androgyny and double exposure, his Australian work paled in comparison. Yet despite his dissatisfaction for these works, similar themes can be seen through his depiction of powerful women, natural light and interesting locations.

The Helmut Newton: In Focus collaboration between the Jewish Museum of Australia and the Photo 2022 International Festival of Photography features 78 original Helmut Newton photography pieces as well as diaries, letters and personal effects. The exhibition will be running until 29 January 2023. To find out more about the exhibition and book tickets, head to their website: https://www.jewishmuseum.com.au/helmut-newton/

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