By Mick “Spin” Dumdell
It has been 35 years since photographer Helmut Newton’s (1920-2004) pair of iconic photographs, Sie Kommen! (Here They Come!) came out in 1981. First we see the four models dressed:
Then we see them in the same poses, undressed:
From the link below in Note 1., we get Newton’s intent. (Plus that link contains more artistic photographs, which I have printed off for my private collection of nude photographs. I take my job seriously and study this kind of thing a lot so I can be a more intelligent blogger.) Anyway, I digress:
In many ways Helmut mocks the fashion industry as he strengthens it. He blatantly exposes a side of it that is difficult to detect or absent in other fashion photography. Take for example one of his better known works ‘Sie kommen!’ (‘Here They Come!’), which copies are sold for more than $55,000. It is a two part image, one image depicts the models clothed and the other they are in the exact same position, but nude. In a strange way the nude depiction lacks much of the sexuality you’d expect, due to aggressive posturing. Their nudity has become dress, they are in essence fashion warriors. They say, ‘Look, but don’t touch. Look, we are coming… but not for you.’ They send the message, as with fashion, ‘Look and die with desire.’ While this may not be the desire of the beholder, it is definitely that of the fashion wearer.
I find the above Ebony Cover makes me reminisce about Sie Kommen! with its four beautiful and assertive Black women.
It is only because of the diligent and tireless work of liberal and progressive Americans everywhere that a cover such as the one above could see the light of day. Once, it would have drawn catcalls, boos, and hisses from racist white troglodytes. Now, these assertive black women, these Queens, can strut their stuff, and say, in effect, “Yeah! Uh huh! Whatcha Gonna Do About It , Cracker!” Ebony needs to complete the series and let us see them in the same pose, nude. Just like the white girls.
While America has come a long way in its attitudes about Black Beauty, let us not forget that the struggle against White Privilege continues! Like I always say, “Racism is hard to find unless you are actively searching for it!”
Yours very truly,
Mick “Spin” Dumdell
Note 1. Helmut Newton: Wiki says,
Helmut Newton (born Helmut Neustädter; 31 October 1920 – 23 January 2004) was a German-Australian photographer. He was a “prolific, widely imitated fashion photographer whose provocative, erotically charged black-and-white photos were a mainstay of Vogue and other publications.”
More at the link below, and it is a fascinating read, well worth your while. This small excerpt:
Born in Berlin in 1920 to a wealthy Jewish family, Helmut Newton was a delicate child prone to fainting. When he was around 8 years old his brother began showing him the ‘gutter’ of Berlin, a red light district which was inhabited by prostitutes like the ‘Red Erna’, who wore thigh boots and carried a whip. Helmut remembers, “my eyes were poppin’ out of my head.” But the Newtons lived at the other end of the social scale, vacationing at posh European spas and hotels that would later become his backdrops. At 12 he saved his money to purchase his first camera at a five-and-dime. The first roll of film he shot was at an underground subway. The whole role came back black except for the one image he shot above ground. A few years later he decided to travel abroad and become a famous photo reporter. “In 1936 I arranged to have myself thrown out of school as a hopeless pupil,” says Helmut. With the help of his mother Helmut began working as an apprentice for Else Simon, a female fashion-and-portrait photographer who operated a studio under the name of Yva. His father’s prophetic response to the chosen path was, “My boy, you’ll end up on the gutter.”
His first job as an assistant lasted for two years and was abruptly ended in 1938 when the Nazis stepped up their attack on the Jews. Yva was forced to close her studio, and later died in a concentration camp. Helmut fled Germany to Singapore and worked as a photojournalist for the ‘Singapore Strait Times’. “The next few years had little to do with photography; I was busy keeping my head above water and trying to avoid starvation. I rarely gave the paper the kind of photos they were hoping for,” he recalls.
In 1971 while in New York for a Vogue assignment, Helmut suffered a major heart-attack which would change his life and transform his photography. With the encouragement from his wife June, Helmut pursued overtly sexual themes in his photos, deriving elements from his own history to instill a menacing edge to his works. This edge brought him to the forefront of fashion photography and possibly made him the most influential figure in his field during the 1970’s. Women were pictured bolder and more aggressive, usually in disquieting situations, photographed in a a realistic reportage style. While the bulk of his models were depicted as members of the social elite, they would be ‘caught’ in seedy environments exploring kinky fantasies with prostitutes and cross-dressers. And then alternating this juxtaposition showing members from the margins of society engaged in fetish driven meetings with the social elite, surrounded by sumptuous hotels and ancient midnight streets, all of them saturated with decadence, luxury, and privilege. While American Vogue would only published distilled version of this period, his most risqué photos were accepted by European magazines. “The term ‘political correctness’ has always appalled me, reminding me of Orwell’s ‘thought police’ and fascist regimes,” he comments on censorship in America.
Helmut published his first book ‘White Women’ in 1976, which featured the most radical selections from this period. Despite negative American reviews it sold some 1500 copies in a week there. ‘The Eyes of Laura Mars’ was a Hollywood film inspired by the photos by Helmut Newton. Ironically the photos he contributed to the film were not satisfactory. The director wanted scenes of blood and corpses which were of no interest to Helmut. He defended his fashion photos as erotic rather than violent.