‘Body Performance’ outperformed expectations

A review of the Helmut Newton Foundation’s latest photography exhibition.

© Yang Fudong, New Women III, 2013

Since its opening in 2004, the Helmut Newton Foundation in Charlottenburg has been largely successful amongst those passionate about photography. At the end of November, I was invited as an employee of Œ Magazine to the opening of the newest exhibition ‘Body Performance’.

The name of the exhibition is self-explanatory. It hosts a collection of photographic works, which incorporate the themes of the human body and performance. The body aspect focuses particularly on the human form and how it interacts with the camera. This includes both choreographed and spontaneous situations.

In terms of the second theme, the Helmut Newton Foundation states, that performance is brought to life by the documentation of “performance art, dance, and other staged events.” As you can see below, Robert Longo’s photo ‘Men in the Cities‘ is an exemplary collection piece of the fusion of the two themes of ‘Body’ and ‘Performance’.

Robert Longo
Men in the Cities, New York, 1976/1982
© Robert Longo, courtesy Schirmer / Mosel Verlag

The exhibition boasts an impressive list of featured photographers, who have all taken unique approaches to successfully encapsulate both themes. However, there were two photographers who were particularly memorable. One of those being Viviane Sassen.

Not only did Sassen push boundaries in terms of choreographing her models to present themselves in the most experimental and extreme contortions. She also aptly introduced colourful ink into her images.

The immersion of colour ink into her photography, allows Sassen to amplify the theme of Performance. The inks natural flow recreates its own path on the body, sometimes contorting itself within and outside of the body framework. In this sense, there are multiple waves of movement within one image. There are multiple performances.

As a former model, Sassen believes her ability to understand both sides of photographic performance supports her in challenging spectators. She aims to challenge through removing conventional artistic limits, which she names ‘above’ and ‘below’. From what I observed, this removal of limits can be depicted through her use of colour ink. In fact, in some photos there is a complete obliteration of these boundaries altogether.

Viviane Sassen
Untitled from Roxane II, 040, 2017
© Viviane Sassen, courtesy Stevenson Gallery, Cape Town

Another personal favourite of the exhibition was the work of Barbara Probst. Her refreshing take on fashion photography is indefinitely ingenious. At first glance, Barbara’s collections of photos appear to be completely unrelated. However, as I began to look closer, I realised that in most photos there was an analogous object linking them together. For example, glimpses of the same blue suit jacket or white vinyl boot.

Probst has cleverly developed a technique, whereby several cameras arranged in various angles will photograph the exact same moment. The images are then usually displayed in diptychs or triptychs; as can be seen in the image below. Such a photographic style resonates with the feeling of deja-vu and ultimately expresses the message that reality is much more complex than it may seem.

Barbara’s fashion photography seems to encapsulate something, which I feel so many fashion editorials are missing: Reality. Within the fashion world, instead of focusing on creating the ‘perfect’ image, maybe it might be more effective to create the most realistic set of images. Bringing the model and clothes to life. I would be interested to see how this style of photography would manifest for leading fashion publications such as Œ, Indie or Wonderland.

Exposure #129, Munich Nederlingerstraße 68, 2017,
08.11.2017, 6:02 pm,
© Barbara Probst, VG Bild-Kunst, courtesy Galerie Kuckei + Kuckei

The popularity of Body Performance, akin to other exhibitions hosted at the Helmut Newton Foundation; comes as no surprise. Newton was and continues to be one of the most prominent photographers of all time. Whilst there, I was also able to access the permanent exhibition ‘Helmut Newton’s Private Property’, which is included in the ticket price.

Commonly referred to as a master of provocative photography, the Berlin-born photographer revolutionised the way in which nudity was perceived in the world of fashion. Whether Newton chose to clad women in latex or lingerie, his photography always exceeded trashiness.

Newton’s collection of black and white photos embody the glamour and poise of Bond girls. Yet, they never fail to ooze overt sexiness. Throughout his career, he photographed some of the most iconic women of film and fashion, including Elizabeth Taylor and Jerry Hall. As part of the exhibition, you are able to read through personal letters from the famous women he photographed, praising him for his commendable work ethic. In fact, there is even a letter from Margaret Thatcher’s office. If that does not epitomise the wide influence of Newton’s work, then I’m not sure what else does.

Helmut Newton Ballet de Monte Carlo, 1992
© Helmut Newton Estate

Being able to leisurely browse through Newton’s most public and most private photos before and after was the perfect Amuse-bouche and Digestif to the exhibition. Both during and afterwards, I was able to deeply reflect on the evolution of nude photography. Even more importantly, I was able to gain insight into how much the exhibited photographers had taken inspiration from or been influenced by Newton’s work.

In this sense, I must congratulate the Helmut Newton Foundation for not only hosting a brilliantly innovative new exhibition. But for also intelligently setting up two exhibitions that complement each other and can be viewed interchangeably for artistic reflection.

If you are in town I would certainly recommend visiting. The exhibition will remain at the Helmut Newton Foundation until 10th May 2020. You can find out more information by visiting their website: https://helmut-newton-foundation.org/en/ausstellungen/body-performance/.

Published by Lucy Rowan

24-year-old Writer and Editor from South West London

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