The renowned “bad boy” photographer reflects on his long journey from pampered Berlin brat to international fashion icon.
Gloriously self-centered Newton seems to have had a model in his beloved mama, a Berlin matron who ruled her enormous apartment, staff, and “pretty little Helmut” with an iron hand. Before his world went to hell, Newton attended private school and dancing lessons, like any other privileged Jewish youth. Abysmal grades persuaded his parents to allow him to apprentice to a photographer, and he took the trade with him when he fled Germany alone in 1938 at age 18. Making his way through Singapore, an internment camp, and finally the Australian army, Newton maintained his spirits and always, always a single-minded devotion to sex of all sorts, whenever and wherever possible. All his adventures are punctuated with lovers, ending finally with his beloved wife June, whom he met in Melbourne in 1946. His interest in sex didn't stop there, but it took him a good long time to incorporate it into his work and hit his professional stride. Sadly uninspired for an entire decade Down Under, left cold by a stint in rainy London for British Vogue, Newton finally found his footing in Paris, where he got a break from Jardin des Modes magazine. From then on, although there continued to be financial struggles, his career moved ever onward despite heart trouble, his wife’s health problems, and his difficulty in being recognized as an artist, not just a craftsman. Finally, he ended up in Monaco, where one presumes he is content, since he ends his tale there in 1982, stating, “People who have arrived at their goal, who are not hungry anymore, are no longer interesting.” Part II, “The Photographs,” offers intriguing notes on some of his better-known subjects.
Disarmingly frank, refreshingly unsentimental, surprisingly crude, and utterly absorbing.