This summer marks a homecoming of sorts for Helmut Newton, who spent much of his life working in Los Angeles and also died there, at Chateau Marmont, in 2004, and who is the subject of two exhibitions opening in the city in the coming weeks.
Three of Newton’s protégés — Mark Arbeit, George Holz and Just Loomis — are both the subjects and co-curators of “Three Boys From Pasadena: A Tribute to Helmut Newton,” which opens June 14 at The Williamson Gallery of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. The three photographers met Newton in the late Seventies while they were students at the prestigious art school, which has never before run a comprehensive exhibit of any of its alumni’s work. The show, which premiered at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin in 2010 and runs in Pasadena through Aug. 26, was also conceived by Newton’s widow, June, as a tribute to her husband by showcasing his influence on the then-fledgling photographers, whom she dubbed “our boys.”
Perry Rubenstein Gallery’s inaugural Los Angeles show, opening June 26 and running through Aug. 25, will be “Sex and Landscapes,” a 40-image collection of the late photographer’s work, curated by June, that made its debut in 2001 at de Pury and Luxembourg. The show comprises 20 nudes and 20 landscapes, several of which were shot in Los Angeles.
“I can’t stress enough the vision that June had. She knew Helmut really liked Art Center and the whole idea coming back to your roots. We owe her a lot,” says Loomis, who adds that the men chose works from their 30-year careers to show their evolution from commercial to fine art photography and the motifs that were also consistent in Newton’s work. Since its debut, the exhibit has grown by about 30 percent to include 150 photographs and a new documentary, as well as various behind-the-scenes photographs of Newton and some of his most iconic works chosen by June.
Arbeit once held a part-time job at the now-closed Beverly Hills boutique Lina Lee in 1979. When he learned that Newton would be visiting the store, he, Holz and Loomis approached him and asked if they could lend a hand on any of his Los Angeles shoots.
Surprisingly, Arbeit says, “he was into the whole idea of teaching us things and invited us up to Beverly Hills Hotel, where he critiqued our pictures.”
Adds Holz: “It was a different time. People are more guarded now because of the Internet, but you could do stuff like that back then without people thinking you were crazy.”
Newton was on assignment for Stern magazine, so the boys offered their assistance with location scouting.
“We drove him around for a week asking him every question about women and fashion and editorial, because we knew we wanted to go into fashion,” says Arbeit. While Newton invited them to the three-day shoot, it lacked the pressure of an artist-assistant relationship. Instead, says Arbeit, “We were more like friends hanging out.”
Arbeit took several shots of the photographer at work over the years that became the basis for the memorabilia boards he put together for the exhibit. Newton even agreed to lecture at Art Center. While Loomis became his Los Angeles assistant for about six years, Arbeit and Holz, who had moved to Milan, would help him when he was in Europe.
“He saw our enthusiasm and curiosity and how serious we were,” Holz says. “He liked young people and would always get back in touch with us, because he enjoyed it.”
When asked what he learned from his mentor, Arbeit says, “We had some teachers who were too soft on us, but he would give it to us straight.”
“We used to call it giving each other the axe,” Holz adds. “June is still the same way. She either loves it or hates it.”
All three say Newton was a highly technical and organized photographer, but also a master at using natural light. Although the three have gone on to have careers of their own, they still weigh in on each other’s work from their home bases in New York (Holz), Los Angeles (Loomis) and Hawaii (Arbeit).
“Helmut was creating new work until the day he died,” Loomis says. “We hope to do the same.”