Interview with Dr. Matthias Harder, the director of Helmut Newton Foundation

Interview with Dr. Matthias Harder, the director of Helmut Newton Foundation

When you came to know the art of Helmut Newton, what was the first thing you found the most fascinating about it?

Still at school, Helmut Newton was the first photographer I was really attracted by. Especially his nudes or more precisely: his subtle seduction and the approach to the strength of feminity. Over the years, Newton opened our eyes and our minds, not only mine. Everything in his work is based on a kind of enigmatic narration and of course on the glamorous world of fashion.

Fashion photography has become a common genre, especially now, in this age of social media. What makes Helmut Newton’s fashion photography special and unique?

There is a certain timeless elegance in his fashion photographs. Newton was always contemporary and often ahead of the Zeitgeist. Thus, he was booked by magazines and fashion clients directly for years and decades, time and time again. Nobody like him published so many fashion photographs during his career. His motifs work perfectly both in small size, published in magazines, and as big prints in exhibitions. Today, Helmut Newton is a classic, a brand, and also his Foundation in Berlin is unique in the world.

You mentioned that the Helmut Newton Foundation is dedicated to the preservation and presentation of the photographic oeuvre of its founder. Your catchphrase is established a “lively building, not a dead museum”. How do you try to achieve this noble goal?

Founded in 2003 by Newton himself and opened in 2004 unfortunately without him, the Foundation works very successfully until today. We change the exhibitions twice a year and also invite other famous photographers to show their work here, e.g. Ralph Gibson, Larry Clark, Guy Bourdin, Mario Testino, Frank Horvat, David Lynch, Saul Leiter, Paolo Roversi, Sarah Moon among others. We get Hundred Thousands of visitors every year and many, many articles featuring our exhibitions. Finally, it has become a lively place and not a dead museum at all. Fulfilling Newton’s wish for his Foundation posthumously makes me happy. He lives on through his work and through the exhibitions we organise.

Intermediality is quite an interesting concept. Previously you likened Newton’s photos unto Alfred Hitchcock’s suspense. But what about music? Could you recommend a genre or a musician to listen to while experiencing a Newton exhibition?

Since some time, we have all discs from Helmut and June’s private collection in our archive. You find nearly everything in there, from classical music (Brahms, Beethoven, Mozart, Verdi) to pop music (Marianne Faithfull, Stevie Wonder, Beatles, Jean-Michel Jarre). Helmut Newton did also some shootings for disc covers, from Van Halen and Scorpions to Sylvie Vartan. One day we will show also these discs with Newton’s portraits of the musicians in a small show in our Foundation.

Everyone (especially artists) changes throughout their life but if we put Newton’s first and last photos together, could we find something similar? Were there any “Newtonesque” attributes at the beginning that remained till the end?

In the centre of his work stands the image of the woman; this was at the beginning of his career, and this was at the end of his life. He was fascinated by the power of women, and that’s what you can see in his work from the 1950s to the 2000s. But you also realise looking at his oeuvre how the role of the women in the western society changed radically. Thus, Newton was also a society photographer.

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