Helmut Newton’s photographs of statuesque beauties in and out of bondage is like Irving Klaw in Imax. Instead of Bettie Page in a maid’s uniform, you have Sigourney Weaver in black vinyl straddling a mountain of celluloid or a naked Charlotte Rampling lounging on a decadent bed of animal skins. What Klaw had started in threadbare studios in New York, Newton took to another level in Hollywood and Europe, creating images of power, domination and submission in a landscape of futuristic cool. The essential dynamics of old school bondage mags had been given a heavy shot of vitamin B12 and slathered in radioactive lacquer. The subjects became the rich and the famous of the art and entertainment worlds.
Newton’s women were often Amazons towering over their surroundings with statuesque grace, glacial ferocity and impenetrable mystery. These were the goddesses of myth and beneath the steely surfaces, there was a sense of menace and the uneasy feeling, for men, that these women did not need the male sex at all.
In his portraits of men, Newton often parodied machismo and subverted concepts of masculine power. Often in recline, men were beautiful blunt objects radiating glimmerings of delicateness.
1989’s Frames From The Edge was directed by Pink Floyd documentarian Adrian Maben and he does an admirable job of capturing Newton’s creative process as well as shedding light on him as a person through insightful interviews with Weaver, Rampling, Bob Evans, Catherine Deneuve, Karl Lagerfield and more.
Newton’s influence on the visuals of advertising, rock ‘n’ roll and fashion are undeniable. And while his art is associated with cool facades, with noirish undertones of murder and mayhem, and the dark seductive tug of sexual power, there is a tremendous amount of tenderness in much of his work.
It is this tenderness that is bursting through the restraints that his subjects are often bound by, both literally and figuratively. The gloves are always about to come off in his photographs.