Francisco Goya's "La Maja Desnuda (The Nude Maja)" introduced the painting world to a provocative image involving a nude woman reclining and unabashedly directing her gaze at the viewer. Inspired by Goya's perspective, Helmut Newton was one of the first photographers to explore sensuality and eroticism within the world of fashion photography. By creating a realm composed of corseted silhouettes, leather saddles and handcuffs, one of the stars of modern photography challenged traditions and experimented with satire.
Take, for example, an image of a mirror reflecting a nude model, shown below. The photographer can be seen at work behind her, while in the foreground, a woman seated on a director's chair observes the entire scene. The woman is Jane Newton, the wife of the artist who is wielding the lens in "Self Portrait with Wife and Models."
This photo, along with two hundred others in the series "White Women" (1976),
“Sleepless Nights" and "Big Nudes" will be on display from April 7 to August 7, 2016, at the Casa dei Tre Oci in Venice, Italy.
On display are photos shot for Vogue, Marie Claire, Elle, Playboy, Vanity Fair and GQ, as well as work previously exhibited in New York, Paris, London, Houston, Moscow, Tokyo, Prague and Venice. The collection transcends fashion photography into portraiture, and portraits into news stories that seem to be taken straight from crime scenes.
To create the massive black and white photos for "Big Nudes," Newton took inspiration from posters distributed by the German police that had been used to track down Red Army Faction (RAF) terrorists. He earned himself a spot in museums and galleries the world over, and immortalized stars like Ava Gardner, Charlotte Rampling, Catherine Deneuve, Romy Schneider and Raquel Welch.
This list also includes Margaret Thatcher, the only woman to have ever frightened Newton. In a 2001 interview with The Guardian he confessed, “I had wanted to get her in front of my camera for years. The more powerful she became, the sexier she was for me."
Eventually, beauty became routine for him. At a certain point, the German photographer, who received his first camera at the age of 12 and at 16 was already working as an assistant at the fashion photography studio Yva, had had enough of perfect forms and gorgeous women. Whenever he was asked "Don't you think this girl is stunning?" he would reply, "She reminds me of work."
Nonetheless, Newton's legacy endures.
This post first appeared on HuffPost Italy and has been translated into English.