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helmut newton

Photographer Helmut Newton and 'Vogue' magazine Creative Director Grace Coddington in 1995.
Photo: MTV

Season: 7 Episode: 40
Title: Swimsuit Edition
Original Airdate: 5/23/95
Appearances: Helmut Newton, Grace Coddington, Eva Herzigova


Helmut Newton is as much a household name as his models, and here we find him shooting again for American Vogue with legendary creative director Grace Coddington. In every way, this is a study in contrasts, and with Helmut, an entire shoot can hinge on him riffing on an image. For his notes on this shoot with Eva Herzigova (notably and unsurprisingly another Aryan-looking ice queen of a subject), he simply had the notion that he would oil her up and she would look like a young Greek goddess. He admits that he’s strayed from his original idea as the shoot progressed, and though you can see hints at Grecian cues in her blonde hair, curled and pinned at the base of her neck, that’s where all intentions fly out the door. It’s fascinating to see Helmut’s brain work, and he explains that inspiration for him is all about a “point of departure.” Were he to wait for the “divine spark to move Helmut,” he says, “we would have to wait and that other positions presented themselves.”

It’s amazing to watch how Helmut works, especially since he’s so articulate and aware of his process. Ellen von Unwerth, for instance, comes from a place of having modeled, and can evoke certain candid, sexy moods by remaining unobtrusive while encouraging girls to play as naturally as possible. With Gilles Bensimon, it’s an exercise in planning, deliberation and showcasing his admiration for women, and while Helmut clearly loves women too, his methods are about projecting fantasies from his own psyche. His point of view and perversions are very much his, and the process is far less collaborative; he talks about how mechanical and precise the resulting photos are. He asks Eva several times to move her fingers slightly or change the placement of a hand. It’s not a flurry of shots as much as it is changing details until he has exactly what he wants.

Helmut says that no aspect of his shoot is about intellectual instruction, but he is shrewd about the fashion photography climate. He abstains from red lipstick because it’s boring; he says he’s easily bored because he’s superficial and has no attention span. He rails against his critics because he thinks that political and social analyses of his photographs miss the point, yet he obviously knows exactly what feelings he’ll evoke, since he’s careful in sullying Eva’s otherwise pristine image by keeping the soles of her feet filthy, and by calling himself politically incorrect.

Helmut Newton is a boon to fashion photography, and even though there are plenty of talented photographers who are still around, there’s something about his very specific voice that I miss. While it’s awesome that technology has democratized fashion photography in terms of barrier to entry with easy-to-use DSLRs and the proliferation of fashion blogs, it’s heartbreaking that there are so few forums for truly romanticized fashion editorials that show off strong voices. The drama has suffered somewhat in favor of technical or journalistic photographs that show how Italian men layer or tie their scarfs or how kids on the street dress, and while candid shots have their merit, I can’t help thinking we have a long way to go before budgets like these will be supported for online-exclusive content without it being an ad campaign, or designed by an agency to look like an editorial. A lot of U.S. fashion editorials these days exist to illustrate a service or glamorize what’s essentially a clothing catalog, and it straight bums me out.



This is sorta like the Cindy shoot in Mexico and predates MTV regular Daisy Fuentes becoming our host by two years, but it's interesting to compare the two calendars. Both of them were concerned about what this means for their image but recognize how important it is for their careers to acknowledge the dude-fans. Daisy opts for a female photographer which alters the dynamic somewhat.



This season’s swimsuit trends range from metallic, detachable marabou feather trim, vintage cuts that resemble bras and girdles, and this newfangled stuff like looks like patent leather but is actually breathable and waterproof. To illustrate this, we’ve got a pair of models posing on fire escapes, using payphones, standing in front of fire hydrant spray and fixing motorcycles. It’s all a bit confusing and very much reminds me of hilarious stock footage on Getty. It’s basically women laughing alone with salad.



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