In Focus: The incomparable photography of Helmut Newton

Photographer Helmut Newton enjoyed a glittering career that blurred the lines between fashion, photography and art; as his centenary approaches he's celebrated in a new exhibition.

The number of photographers who become more famous than their subjects is vanishingly small. David Bailey and Rankin (aka John Waddell) are probably on that list, and Lord Snowdon would have been too had he not photographed his even more famous in-laws.

All three herald from Britain, but ask the same question across on the Continent and one name would likely come straight to people’s lips: Helmut Newton. The German-born photographer was born 100 years ago this month, and is the subject of an exhibition at the Zebra One Gallery in Hampstead.

©Helmut Newton, via Zebra One Gallery

Newton — originally called Helmut Neustädter — grew up in Berlin, the son of a Jewish factory owner, and developed an interest in photography from the age of 12. He’d already worked for the pioneering photographer Yva (real name Neuländer-Simon) as a teenager when he and his family were forced to flee the Nazi regime. Newton’s parents went to Argentina, while Newton ended up in Singapore where he worked as a photographer for the New Straits Times. (Yva was not so lucky: she and her husband stayed, and were killed at the Majdanek concentration camp.)

Interned for two years at the start of the war, he was eventually sent to Australia in 1942, going on to become a British subject and take the name Newton as he embarked on a career in fashion photography which eventually called him back to Europe, as well as propelling him around the rest of the world.

©Helmut Newton, via Zebra One Gallery

His signature style — provocative, bold, erotic and always black-and-white — brought him huge success, particularly in the pages of Vogue, and saw him rub shoulders with some of the world’s most famous people. Pictures of David Bowie and Jerry Hall — the latter captured spitting water at a fellow model — are among the 18 original silver gelatine prints which are on display at the Zebra One Gallery.

Jerry Hall squirts water onto a friend in one of Newton’s candid snaps. ©Helmut Newton, via Zebra One Gallery

Finding the prints was difficult, according to the gallery’s owner and curator Gabrielle Du Plooy. ‘Vintage prints were usually sent by the photographer to the newspaper or magazine editors — most were destroyed or written over,’ she says. Their survival is down to art agent Norman Solomon, who was given them by Newton in 1985 in thanks for some work he’d done promoting a series of exhibitions.

‘It’s extremely rare to find them in immaculate condition, so we’re incredibly excited about sharing these,’ adds Du Plooy.

Helmut Newton: 100 Years is at the Zebra One Gallery in Hampstead from October 31 to November 14 – see www.zebraonegallery.com for more details.