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World without Men: Helmut Newton

INTERVIEW! Newton museum curator Matthias Harder talks the shadowed side of Helmut and shedding new light on the work of the legendary fashion photographer. 'World Without Men/Archive de Nuit" runs through May 19.

Image for World without Men: Helmut Newton
Stern, Saint Tropez 1978. Copyright Helmut Newton Estate

How can you put a fresh spin on Helmut Newton?

Two new exhibitions at the Newton Museum offer two new takes on the legendary fashion photographer: the female-centric World without Men and the darker, more intimate Archives de Nuit. Museum curator Matthias Harder talks about the shadowed side of Helmut.

This is your eighth year as curator for the Helmut Newton Museum – how do you shed new light on works that are so familiar?

In the last exhibition [Newton’s widow] June Newton decided to base the show on a book – Helmut’s first three books, in fact. All of the books’ pages were on the wall. It was very successful. We took a similar approach in this show with the fourth book, World Without Men. These kind of ironic, descriptive titles are a running theme for him. So what we see here in this fashion world of Helmut Newton from the 1960s to early 1980s is just that: a world without men. If the men do come into the frame, then they are just props.

Is Newton somebody who has given the power back to women?

Absolutely. It starts with the Helmut Newton Museum. When you enter you see the big nudes, five of them, in the niches. This building was erected as a military casino – if you were here 100 years ago, you would have seen five Prussian officials standing there instead. With this kind of change, you hit the point!

There are several photographs – the Laundry, the Soap Factory and the Men’s Room – that feel out of place amongst the fashion and glamour…

These are from the second project he did, Archives de Nuit, a little later, in the early 1990s. This includes photographs from the time of the late 1980s and early 1990s, published in 1992 and exhibited first in Paris. These photos are more or less ‘side shots’. It is not about fashion; it’s the other side of Helmut Newton. It’s a darker side. Therefore it’s Archives de Nuit: a night archive. It’s an unusual Helmut Newton that we see here.

A more private Helmut Newton?

Yes. In the last exhibition, photography works by his friend Jan de Wit showed a 80-year-old Newton taking pictures of flowers, chimneys, fences… It’s interesting to see that he was absolutely intrigued by nearly everything. The photos of these flowers, fences and chimneys must exist somewhere!

Helmut Newton: World Without Men / Archives de Nuit, Dec 7-May 19 | Helmut Newton Foundation: Museum für Fotografie, Jebensstr. 2, Tiergarten, U-Bhf Zoologischer Garten, Tue-Sun 10-18, Thu 10-20