Last friday Paris flocked to the opening at the Grand Palais for a retrospective of 250 pictures from the celebrated Helmut Newton. A city that savors and manufactures fashion and creativity could not resist the Olympian call of one of the beacons of XX century photography.
Few artists have received such an impressive show so shortly after death. In January 2004, his life ended when he lost control of his Cadillac as he was leaving the parking area of the Château Marmont Hotel on Sunset Boulevard. A romantic ending to a glittering life. His seductive images, all carefully composed and meticulously provocative have entered the mainstream of fashion photography. Newton illustrates the confluence of marketing and art in the hands of Vogue, Marie-Claire and Elle. The editors consented to the visual representations of his erotic fantasies, on the borderline of perversity and chic, confident that the thousands of magazine copies sold would cause a stir but not a loss of readers. The beast was tamed.
The rest is history. Cultural anthropologists and other pundits will deconstruct his images and claim he is a pioneer of female liberation while others will revile his manipulation of the feminine representation. It is hard to believe that the pivotal themes of his oeuvre, power, class and money incorporate an ode to a free woman. A strong woman certainly. A loved one, I doubt it. My personal impression in front of his most iconic work “Elles Arrivent”, published in Vogue France in 1981, is of advancing glaciers. No one I know, in their wildest fantasies, would wish for such chilly temperatures.