The exhibition consists of two hundred photographs from the first three legendary volumes published by Helmut Newton. In the volume White Women (1976), the photographer thrusts nudity into the fashion aesthetic, achieving such astounding and provocative images as to revolutionise the very concept of fashion photography to the point where his work began to testify to the transformation in women’s role in Western society. Sleepless Nights (1979) also focuses on the theme of the woman, her body and the clothes she wears, though the images gradually shift from fashion photographs into fully-fledged portraits, and from portraits almost into news reporting. The second volume has more of a retrospective feel to it, gathering into a single publication the work that Newton produced for several different magazines (with Vogue heading the list), and it was the volume that defined his style once and for all, turning him into an icon of fashion photography. But it was with the publication of Big Nudes (1981) that Newton carved a role out for himself as a leading light in photography in the second half of the 20th century. His models are systematically portrayed outside the studio, in the street, often in sensual poses suggesting that he may well have been using fashion photography as a mere pretext for producing something totally different and far more personal.
Newton had an expert eye in fathoming a reality which, behind the supreme elegance of his pictures, allows us to perceive an underlying ambiguity in which eroticism and death are only two aspects of the same search for truth that transcends all convention, building a story in which the search for style and the capture of an elegant gesture hint at the existence of a deeper reality, at the existence of a story that it is left to the observer himself to interpret.
Many of these pictures are particularly significant in this connection, pictures like the portrait of Andy Warhol frozen in the same position as a statue of the Madonna that he photographed in a Tuscan church, Nastassja Kinski seen clutching a doll with the features of Marlene Dietrich, the photograph of a woman at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, or the sequence of women imprisoned in prostheses which, in correcting a physical impairment, are actually not that different from the make-up that is designed to correct an aesthetic flaw.