“Gun for Hire” – Helmut Newton: Portraitist

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Aptly named the “King of Kink” due to the BDSM elements he incorporated in his photographs, Helmut Newton achieved fame (and notoriety) with his provocative and unconventional style throughout the ’80s and 90s, becoming a major cultural icon of our times. . While Helmut Newton is better known for his fashion (albeit with an erotic and nude twist), indeed this is the established image of him, there is another side to his work that many ignore.

His exceptional portraits.

The impressive list of the people who sat in front of Helmut Newton to have their portrait taken, should even convince the firebrands among of his critics for his talent. Actors, singers, designers, businessmen, royalty and even politicians have been photographed by Newton.  Viewing the images, the great differences in photographic style of his portraits become apparent, in essence showcasing Helmut Newton’s versatility. Like a chameleon he adapts to the task, after all he s a gun for hire, ready for the task. His portraits move from soft to stark, from the elaborate to the raw and candid snapshot. Yet all retain an honesty, some do not even flatter their subjects. Food for thought for the living in the digital airbrushed era.

One could argue that his success in the realm of fashion persuaded his subjects to select him for their portraits. That maybe be true for the most; yet, we really doubt the Iron Lady, Margaret Thatcher, cared for any of that. Some of the persons appearing in this feature were photographed by Helmut Newton only once, while others built a steady relationship, being photographed multiple times.

This legendary status he enjoys  is not unfounded. Even if this part of his great body of work (spanning almost six decades) was all that remained, his portraits are a testament to his skill and vision and their merit suffices to ensure a place for him in posterity. And while most focus on his nudes with female models, Helmut Newton’s portraits demand our respect equally and maybe a bit more.

Presented in alphabetical order:

Andy Warhol

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Anita Ekberg

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Anna Dello Russo

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Anthony Hopkins

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Bjork

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Brigitte Nielsen

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Charlotte Rampling

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Daryl Hannah

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David Bowie

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David Lynch & Isabella Rossellini

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Diane von Fürstenberg and Alain Elkann

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Debra Winger

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Elisabeth Shue

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Elizabeth Taylor

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Ernesto Esposito

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Faye Dunaway

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Giovanni Agnelli

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Helmut Berger

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Hugh Heffner & Carrie Leigh

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Isabella Rossellini

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Jack Maple

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Jeanne Moreau

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Jeff Koons & Cicciolina

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Jodie Foster

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Jude Law

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Julia Roberts

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Julie Delpy

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June Newton

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Karl Lagerfeld

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Katrin Deneuve

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Keith Richards

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Kim Basinger

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Laurel Martyn

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Madonna

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Margaret Thatcher

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Marianne Faithful

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Marlene Dietrich

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Maryam d’Abo

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Mick Jagger

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Mickey Rourke

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Monica Belluci

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Monica Vitti

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Nicolas Cage

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Nicole Kidman

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Ornela Mutti

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Paloma Picasso

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PJ Harvey

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Rainer Werner Fassbinder

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Ralph Fiennes

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Sigourney Weaver

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Sophia Loren

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Princess Stéphanie of Monaco, Countess of Polignac

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Yves Saint Laurent

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 …and some self portraits

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