Taken from the December issue of Dazed & Confused:
She’s not really looking mysterious, she’s just blinking,” June Newton says as she and her celebrated photographer husband, Helmut, inspect a blown-up image of one of his sultry nudes. “No!” Helmut cries. “You are belittling me again! It is my direction that has made her mysterious and wonderful.” June replies: “I’m just a realist, that’s all.”
Colourful banter like this typifies her 1995 documentary Helmut by June, which shows a rare glimpse of the softer side of the man named “King of Kink” by Time magazine. But in shedding light on the Newtons’ world it also provides insight into another influential photographer: June herself. Under the pseudonym Alice Springs, after the central Australian town (she hails from Melbourne), she carved her own body of work and a niche as the yin to Helmut’s yang. In contrast to his boldly stylised conceptual images, June fostered a reputation for raw, honest portraits.
"Open your eyes! But put your head back! Throw your chest out – the more chest I get the better for everyone!"
This approach comes across in the filmic portrait of her husband, who died in 2004 (they were married for 56 years). It is June’s only film, created after the Sony Hi-8 she gave Helmut one Christmas got left unused. “After working with still cameras for so many years, the video camera was like a new toy.”
The documentary sees a tanned, 74-year-old Helmut directing Cindy Crawford and Helena Christensen by a pool in Saint-Tropez in 1992; Claudia Schiffer as a rich trophy wife in a luxurious hotel suite; Crawford caught in stilettos and bright headlights in Monte Carlo. His shoots were always glamorous and meticulously staged, and the film shows the pedantic posing that went into creating a Helmut Newton image. “Open your eyes! But put your head back! Throw your chest out – the more chest I get the better for everyone!”
June’s handheld footage, agonisingly pieced together by London-based director Oliver Potterton, demonstrates her connection with her subjects and ability to capture intimacy. Even Helmut is caught off-guard, coming across as warm and self-effacing in snippets of the couple resting at Chateau Marmont. June’s lens may be rose-tinted but the truth of her footage shines through in candid moments such as Helmut paying tribute to his instrument: “You close your eyes and you can’t remember anything. But a camera can open its eye for a 1,000th of a second and remember every detail. To me that’s magic.”
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