TURIN, Italy — Photography has long been considered a form of art, and Helmut Newton has contributed to crystallizing this concept. So much so that GAM, Turin’s Civic Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, on Thursday opened its 2020 season with the retrospective exhibition “Helmut Newton. Works,” running until May 3. The exhibition is promoted by Fondazione Torino Musei and produced by Civita Mostre e Musei in collaboration with the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin.
“Spanning more than five decades, the work of Helmut Newton defies categorization,” said curator Matthias Harder, director of the German foundation. “Newton transcended genres, bringing elegance, style and voyeurism to fashion, beauty and glamour photography for an oeuvre that remains as inimitable as it is unrivaled.”
Harder selected 68 works starting from the Seventies onward, which range from Newton’s advertising campaigns for Thierry Mugler and Mario Valentino, his editorial shoots for fashion magazines and his powerful portraits of the likes of Paloma Picasso (1983), Catherine Deneuve (1976) and Anita Ekberg (1988).
Denis Curti, director of the monthly “Il Fotografo,” artistic director of the “Casa dei tre Oci” in Venice and artistic director of the Photography Festival of Capri, said Newton helped “rewrite the fashion photography vocabulary, which stopped being descriptive to become aspirational and tell stories.”
Curti opined that Newton “was the first photographer who reasoned by sequences, forming groups of photos for a stronger message. He asks viewers to complete his stories.”
Although Newton’s subversive and innovative techniques and body of work have been well-documented, triggering countless imitators and his fame has not waned even after his death in 2004, Riccardo Passoni, director of GAM, said “this exhibition brings confirmations and surprises. When you think you know his photography, there is the surprise of the power of his evocative images and their content.”
To be sure, the German-Australian photographer’s portraits of Andy Warhol, captured in 1974 sleeping in a pose, said Curti, are striking and reminiscent of “The Lamentation of Christ,” a painting dating from around 1480 by the Italian Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna.
The 1997 photo of Fiat tycoon Gianni Agnelli, every wrinkle only amplifying his stature and magnetism, or that of Gianfranco Ferré looking as powerful as can be back in 1996, are also arresting. Sigourney Weaver smoking on a balcony in a wet shirt, captured in 1995 for Vanity Fair, a stormy and ominous sky in the background adding suspense, is certainly no sleek celebrity photo.
Curti provided some tidbits, such as the fact that Newton was color-blind and that he was addicted to crime news, which he actually covered for Paris Match. He also addressed the accusations that Newton objectified women — on the contrary, Curti believes the photographer’s eye actually “added strength, power and independence to women. Newton paid tribute to women with his photos. Men are simply accessories.”
Passoni revealed that an exhibition with more than 220 of Newton’s photos will be staged in Milan. Both shows mark the 100th anniversary of Newton’s birth.