Berlin: Hollywood at the Helmut Newton Foundation

Berlin: Hollywood at the Helmut Newton Foundation

Hollywood is a brand and a myth. For years it has been unsurpassed as an illusion machine, constantly on the lookout for shining stars, not only when the Oscars, or, as they are officially called, the Academy Awards, are presented every spring. About a century ago, Ufa in Berlin had a comparable position and power. After the Second World War, Cinecittà in Rome held a similar status. The major European film festivals – Berlin, Cannes and Venice – create an additional buzz. Beyond Europe and the United States, cinema is flourishing despite the challenges: Hollywood’s equivalent in India, especially Bombay, is Bollywood; in Africa, especially Nigeria, they have Nollywood.

This exhibition traces the allure of Hollywood. We glimpse both the official and private lives of stars, the villas of the rich and beautiful, film-loving fans, as well as many secondary motifs, such as film props. Helmut Newton was enthusiastic about the Hollywood myth and often he referenced the novels of Raymond Chandler and his alter ego, Philip Marlowe, and quoted specific film scenes, such as by Alfred Hitchcock. His fashion photographs since the 1960s can seem almost cinematic in their staging, while his portraits since the 1970s can have the flair of a film still. Whether Josef von Sternberg, Fritz Lang, Federico Fellini, or David Lynch, Newton’s work abounds with both subtle and obvious allusions to the world of film. Newton also photographed the Cannes Film Festival from time to time in the 1980s and ‘90s. These photographs are currently on view, parallel to Hollywood, at the exhibition Newton’s Riviera in Monte Carlo.

Helmut and June Newton moved from Paris to Monte Carlo in late 1982. From then on, they spent the winter months in Los Angeles at Chateau Marmont Hotel, which was frequented by film industry celebrities. Newton occasionally traveled to the US in the 1970s for various fashion magazines, but it was not until the 1980s and ‘90s that he began systematically taking portraits of actors, directors, and musicians in and around Hollywood, also on assignment for magazines. Newton developed an individual scenario for each of his subjects. He later published some of these portraits in his photography book Us and Them, collaborating closely with his wife, June, on its production. In Us and Them, each double-page spread shows two portraits: one taken by Helmut Newton, the other by Alice Springs. The images were shot in and around Los Angeles. We see David Hockney, Robert Evans, Anjelica and John Huston, Tina Chow, Timothy Leary, Hanna Schygulla, and Dennis Hopper – twice each, with completely different facial expressions or gestures. On the one side, they appear natural and approachable; on the other, they appear staged or acted – the private and the public figure, side by side.

Besides commissioned portraits for magazines such as Vanity FairThe New Yorker and Playboy, Helmut Newton at Chateau Marmont created his famous series of Domestic Nudes. Nearly 100 photographs that Newton took in and around Hollywood – including iconic images that were rediscovered in the archives of the Helmut Newton Foundation – can now be seen throughout the three front exhibition rooms.

In addition to Helmut Newton’s photographs, this new group exhibition features 13 photographers and their interpretations of Hollywood. It features portraits of actors from Hollywood’s early years by Ruth Harriet Louise and George Hoyningen-Huene, film stills and on-set photographs taken by Steve Schapiro and several Magnum photographers, such as Eve Arnold and Inge Morath, who documented the production of the 1960 John Huston film, Misfits. A display showcases an extensive portfolio of photographs taken by George Hurrell.

Set somewhat apart in the same exhibition room are five large-format color photographs from Larry Sultan’s The Valley. In this series, he documents the porn film industry near Hollywood – the largest of its kind and, in a sense, the equally lucrative dark side of the dazzling world of glamor. Sultan captures the fringes of porn film production in the San Fernando Valley – where films like ChinatownE.T., and Mulholland Drive were also shot. In another part of the exhibition space are five large-format, minimalistic black-and-white portraits shot by Anton Corbijn in Los Angeles. Be it Clint Eastwood or Tom Waits, they do not perform for Corbijn’s camera, and as a result, their portraits contrast with the official film stills.

Annie Leibovitz’s famous portrait series is spread out in another display case. Every year, she photographs the Oscar winners for the American edition of Vanity Fair.

The city of Los Angeles is the focus of the works in the rear exhibition space. Here, Julius Shulman’s architectural photographs highlight legendary mansions in Hollywood Hills and Beverly Hills – architectural icons of L.A. modernism, including famous Case Study Houses, designed by Richard Neutra, Pierre Koenig, Rudolph Schindler, and other notable architects. Some of these homes belonged to movie stars and producers, and they occasionally served as movie sets – along with their swimming pools.

Michael Dressel gives us a completely different view of the city with his high-contrast, sometimes unsparing portraits of the failed and disillusioned, and also of Hollywood tourists. Jens Liebchen started work on his color series L.A. Crossing in 2010 as part of the La Brea Matrix project initiated by Markus Schaden. This project is on the opposite wall of Philip-Lorca di Corcia’s Hustler series from the 1990s, portraying male prostitutes around Santa Monica Boulevard. Each photograph’s title includes the sitter’s name, place of origin, and hourly rate – the latter referring to the fee received for their participation in the photograph. In Hollywood, everything seems for sale.

In the middle of the room is Ed Ruscha’s  Every Building at the Sunset Strip. Produced in 1966, the series provides an architectural and social context for the other photographers’ later images of the same sites and street corners.

In June’s Room, a different kind of street photography is on view, with images Alice Springs shot on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood in 1984. The photographs capture the music-based counterculture of punks and mods who transformed the streets into a stage – as if life were one big casting show.

Helmut Newton died on January 23, 2004. Since his death, much has changed in L.A., and some of the legendary major film studios are now history. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), for example, was sold to Sony and then sold again recently. Other studios like Paramount can barely get out of the red despite the occasional box office hit, and they are increasingly cooperating with movie-streaming services. As we know, film as both an institution and business has changed radically in recent years, even more so by the Covid-19 pandemic. This exhibition in Berlin looks back on 100 years of its history, taking an utterly contemporary perspective. Paying homage to the slowly fading splendor of an entire era, it carries on the tradition of cinematographic storytelling through photographic means.

Matthias Harder


Various artists, Hollywood
03/06 – 20/11/2022
Helmut Newton Foundation
Jebenstr. 2, 1063 Berlin

Helmut Newton, Sigourney Weaver at Warner Bros, Burbank 1983, copyright Helmut Newton Foundation, courtesy Helmut Newton Foundation, Berlin

Alice Springs, Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, 1984, copyright Helmut Newton Foundation, courtesy Helmut Newton Foundation, Berlin

Steve Schapiro, Jack Nicholson as Jake Gittes in “Chinatown” by Roman Polanski, Los Angeles 1974, copyright Steve Schapiro, courtesy Helmut Newton Foundation, Berlin

Cover image: Larry Sultan, Sharon Wild, 2001, from the series The Valley, ® The Estate of Larry Sultan, courtesy Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne


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