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December 5: Helmut Newton

Lawrence Bush
December 5, 2016
Fashion photographer Helmut Newton fled Nazi Germany at age 18 on this date in 1938 following the country-wide pogrom known as Kristallnacht. His parents had already fled to South America after having all of their wealth confiscated. Intending to land in China, he put in first in Singapore and found work as a news and portrait photographer. British authorities in Singapore, however, transported him to a brief internment in Australia, where he joined the armed forces and, after the war's end, set up a photography studio in Melbourne. By 1956 he was working under contract with Vogue magazine, which brought him to London and then Paris. Newton was especially known for his imaginative and fetishistic, black and white nudes, and for his portraits of famously compelling women including Catherine Deneuve, Sigourney Weaver, Charlotte Rampling, and Jodie Foster. "Newton took up his camera in the 1950s," says the website of the Foam Museum in Amsterdam, which hosted a retrospective of his work this year, "but his breakthrough didn’t come until the 1970s . . . and early 1980s [which] were characterised by social change. Traditional power relations shifted and it was a period of fervent female emancipation and looser sexual morality. This is all directly represented in Newton’s photography. And it was no accident that Newton was closely acquainted with Yves Saint Laurent and Karl Lagerfeld, fashion designers that played with male-female relations and strived for a new, contemporary female image." Newton died at 79 in 2004 in a car accident in southern California. "I like photographing the people I love, the people I admire, the famous, and especially the infamous. My last infamous subject was the extreme right wing French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen." --Helmut Newton

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.