A prolific portraitist, but recognized mainly for his fashion photography, Helmut Newton gained renown for images that bring together international jet-set scenarios, explicit sexuality, and subtle emotional ambiguity. Newton often described himself in interviews as essentially a voyeur, a trait he considered inseparable from the very nature of photography.
The photographs in the collection of the Castello di Rivoli were commissioned by fashion magazines in the 1980s. To photograph two evening gowns, Newton chose the setting of the Deligny public swimming pool, in central Paris. The photographer noted that he was fascinated by public pools because of the immediate contrast provided by scanty bathing suits exhibited against the backdrop of urban buildings and traffic. At the Piscine Deligny, Paris, 1978, photographed for the French edition of Vogue, accentuates the artificial character of the pool in the center of the city, inserting the incongruous element of clothed models, in artificial poses that contrast with the relaxed attitudes of the pool users. According to Newton, the Deligny pool presents an interesting picture of urban sociology, whose population of swimmer attracts a wide range of people, from men who both watch and invite observation, to the news vendor selling papers, to women who pass an hour in the sun before returning to the office.
In a Private Apartment, Paris, 1980, builds its interest around depth: the perspectival view of the photograph virtually takes possession of the various planes that make up the scene, set in an opulently furnished living room. In the foreground is a couple: a man helps his companion button, or perhaps unbutton, an evening gown. A strong light isolates them from the rest of the scene. Behind the couple, in shadow, two women photographed from the back are watching an erotic film. Another man sits apart, on a sofa, seemingly engrossed in the film. The entire scene puts the viewer in the position of an unwilling voyeur, drawn into the situation by the feline glance and generous décolletage of the model in the foreground. It has been noted that Newton’s photographs have resemblances to police photos or photojournalism: in Newton’s work, a strong light, almost like a flash, illuminates the principal subject, leaving less significant details in darkness.
The Brandenburg Gate and the Berlin Wall, 1987, shows a model posing in front of the Brandenburg Gate, the famous monument that symbolizes the origins of the German state. The facial expression and pose of the woman convey apprehension in the shadow of the Berlin Wall, which still stood when this image was photographed.
In the autumn of 1998, on the occasion of the opening of the Castello’s Manica Lunga to the public, Newton created a series of photographs centered on this structure, which originally was built as a painting gallery for the House of Savoy. Fascinated by the architecture of the Rivoli museum complex, Newton photographed a series of images dedicated to the interior and exterior spaces, making dramatic use of black and white to emphasize the building’s architectural volumes.