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Grand palais holds the first retrospective of Helmut Newton’s work since the artist’s death in 2004. His work, all at once controversial, cynical, and insolent, pioneered a famous aesthetic style also known as porno chic.

“Some people’s photography is an art. Mine is not. If they happen to be exhibited in a gallery or a museum, that’s fine. But that’s not why I do them. I’m a gun for hire.”

With 250 images, polaroids and monumental prints, the first French retrospective on Helmut Newton’s work since the artist’s death in 2004, proves him wrong. Controversial, insolent, provocative, cynical… are common words used to qualify the photographer’s work. Born in Berlin, he pioneered in the 60s an explosive style that later inspired many creators and advertisers: a careful mix of unbridled eroticism and ultra-sophistication, also known as Porno-chic.
Many times blamed for its vulgarity, this style is now again a source of fascination and inspiration, while the whole fashion planet seems to be driven by sure, reassuring taste and minimalistic wisdom. Does that mark the return of a sound, glamorous woman, all conquering and shimmering, after many years of slick, natural and reassuring beauty?


Helmut Newton didn’t like spontaneity. His pictures were carefully thought and composed as paintings or movie scenes, for his talent, Fellini-like, was much of a director’s. Vestale in stilettos, strange androgynous couple in Paris, totem working-girl...  are all visual tales of desire in tension, where the highest sense of drama meets sophisticated decadence.

1. Yves Saint Laurent, rue Aubriot Vogue, 1975 Paris, at the time Newton lived in rue Aubriot 2. Nova, 1973 Paris


“I love vulgarity. I am very attracted by bad taste--it is a lot more exciting than that supposed good taste which is nothing more than a standardized way of looking at things.”

When Newton arrived in Paris in 1957 in a white Porsche with his wife June, he had decided to take fashion pictures, but was ready to shake off its constraints.  Provocative all along his career, he played with taboos, sex, nude, money, power, and put the Parisian bourgeois, with “too much money and too much time” in magazines. Chains, bills, handcuffs, jewels, cigarettes, soon became his favourite accessories. The photographer became a brilliant director of the loud opulence, almost obscene to the self-righteous and feminists.

1. Vogue France, 1994, Paris. This picture was taken at home, during a friends’ dinner organized by the Newton couple 2. Hand and dollars, 1986, Monte-Carlo


In nude, the Newton woman attacks the world, exposing her athletic, erotic body like a powerful instrument of social empowerment: proud, unapologetic seductress, glamorous dominatrix... Far from the misogynist he was often accused of being, Helmut Newton was indeed working for a new vision of women, in total opposition with the cliché of the submissive housewife. Conquering and proud, his woman was a leader of the game, rather than a victim.

1. Sie kommen, 1981, Paris. Four women melt on the viewer, elegantly dressed first, then naked. 2. Stern magazine, Los Angeles, 1980