Helmut Newton: In Focus

‘In Focus’ is a new exhibition surveying the personal life and art of internationally recognised photographer Helmut Newton (1920–2004). It is presented in Melbourne at the Jewish Museum of Australia in collaboration with the Gandel Centre of Judaica and also comes to us in partnership with the Helmut Newton Foundation.

Helmut Neustädter, as he was then known, escaped Nazi persecution and arrived in Australia as a young man in 1940. He made his home here for 20 years, finding love with June aka Alice Springs, working in the ‘rag trade’ in Melbourne and developing his artistic craft, paving the way for a huge international career to come in Paris and New York working on campaigns for Yves Saint Laurent, Calvin Klein and Givenchy in French and American Vogue.

Image: Jewish Museum of Australia facade,  featuring: Alice Springs, Helmut Newton, Melbourne, 1958, copyright Helmut Newton Estate, courtesy Helmut Newton Foundation

‘The exclusive and eccentric lives of the beautiful and rich, full of erotic and culinary debauchery, is a recurring theme in Newton’s work. He made use of and simultaneously questioned visual clichés, at times tinged with self-irony or mockery, but always full of empathy. Pushing, transgressing, and tearing-down boundaries are among the photographer’s trademarks’ explained Dr. Matthias Harder, Director / Curator of the Helmut Newton Foundation.

The show is comprised of large scale and older prints, as well as documentation and ephemera; the mixed-media approach of the curation is an attempt to illustrate the nuances of both the man, the practice, the work and also shed light on the social and historical context of his coming of age in the 1930s onwards and then a career taking flight in the 70s. ‘In Focus’ also draws on items from state, national and private collections to illuminate the early life and career of Newton; from his Jewish roots and youth in Berlin to leaving Germany at the outbreak of WWII and then his internment at Tatura in regional Victoria.

You’ll enjoy an array of iconic images from Newton’s artistic career for ‘In Focus’ with 78 original photographs indicative of the ‘daring and controversial’ mode in which he operated. His provocative approach ‘revolutionised the fashion world and established Newton as one of the most sought-after photographers of the 20th century’ says the Museum.

On view will be iconic works which speak to his ‘erotic, bold and playful aesthetic but also to the provocation, ambiguity and voyeurism that is emblematic of his work’ said Eleni Papavasileiou, Senior Curator & Collection Manager, on opening the exhibition. ‘He created incredibly powerful photographs that marked a generation and shaped visual culture… (the show) sparks curiosity and promotes conversation around the male gaze, representation, diversity and power’ Papavasileiou continued.

Helmut Newton: In Focus, exhibition installation view, Jewish Museum of Australia, Melbourne, 2022; photo: Marie-Luise Skibbe

In addition to attending the exhibition you can broaden your appreciation for Newton’s oeuvre and place in history with the upcoming discussion ‘Returning the Gaze: Helmut Through a Contemporary Lens’ on 14 August, or a week later join the walking tour of Flinders Lane and uncover the Jewish history of Melbourne’s schmatte business with expert guide Kim Simpson.

The exhibition is on view for the remainder of the year, and until 29 January 2023. You can listen to or read the transcript from an interesting panel discussion on the legacy of Helmut Newton’s photography here.