Noirs désirs

I saw the Helmut Newton exhibit at the Grand Palais on Monday and I’m still trying to decide how I feel about it. The exhibit started in March and was supposed to end in mid-June, but it was extended until the end of July 2012 due to immense popularity. Newton, born in Berlin, lived for many years in Paris when he worked for French Vogue. It was clear that his high-fashion photography was out of the box. There was a definite narrative – if a picture speaks a thousand words, these spoke a whole novel, probably a novel by Raymond Chandler where a dame ain’t a lady. Several actually were crime scene-style, like noir detective novels. The exhibit was entitled Noirs désirs (nwar dayzeers), which means “black desires.” Many of the photos were disturbing – a woman on all fours wearing a saddle, or a female police officer nude from the waist down, except for her shoes. I was so put off by the sadomasochistic overtones of several of the pictures that I nearly walked out.

And then I watched the movie that his wife made by filming Newton working.  The man in the movie was funny and warm. His wife called him “Helmie” and teased him about wearing his clothes until they were worn right out. It was so unexpected. I could imagine sitting in a café and having a blast talking to this scintillating man. On my way out, I looked again at some of the portraits he’d done of famous people, such as Margaret Thatcher, with more appreciation of his talent. But I sure wouldn’t want to be photographed by someone who kept handcuffs and chains in his car for use in photo-shoots. Since Newton died in 2004, there’s small risk of that.

Helmut Newton

About Patricia Gilbert

Patricia Gilbert is a French teacher. She's Canadian, lives in the United States, but dreams of living in France. Follow her on Instagram @Onequalitythefinest and on Twitter @1qualthefinest.
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5 Responses to Noirs désirs

  1. Cliff Gilbert says:

    I’m guessing you didn’t stop at the gift shop on the way out.

  2. I stopped, but I didn’t buy the 10,000 Euro signed copy of the collected works!

  3. Interesting. I’m enjoying/envious of your recent posts about all the shows you’ve been seeing! I agree that his images were disturbing…but that was also his point. Few photographers before or since have pushed the fashion-shoot envelope as far.

  4. It feels like a particularly rich offering of exhibits this summer. I’m thoroughly enjoying myself.

  5. Pingback: Mannequins – Corps de la mode | One quality, the finest.

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