Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Paris Journal III: Helmut Newton at the Grand Palais

Photograph by Hallie Cohen
“The ‘Big Nudes’ began in l980 and were inspired by police identity photos of German terrorists,” is the Helmut Newton quote above a wall of totally naked models that’s part of the exhibition of his work at the Grand Palais. Along with these the half naked female Beverly Hills cop from l997, “Laura, Oui" (1974) and “Ernest Esposito et une amie” all appear like the antiquities that might be shown in the nearby Louvre. The mountains of pubic hair, which were once such a bold statement of unfettered eroticism, have all but disappeared from both fashion photography and pornography both. Pubic hair has been naturally selected out of the evolution of modern photography. The fittest which has survived is the photograph of the model who has undergone Brazilian hot waxing. “Je suis tres attire par le mauvais gout,” Newton is quoted as saying on another wall of the exhibit. Are beauty and desire creations and if so what goes into the making of these neuropsychological events? What Newton calls bad taste was for him a kind of beauty, a mixture of sado-masochism and humor (such as the picture of a woman’s lower torso in the mouth of a crocodile from a l983 picture of Pina Bausch’s Dance Theater taken in the company’s home town of Wuppertal). Now beauty in fashion is more often than not defined by the anorexic photos of Kate Moss which to some constitute the epitome of bad taste. Brassai was one of Newton’s many celebrity subjects (along with Elsa Peretti, Liz Taylor and the Wildenstein family) and his photographs of Paris represent a Pleistocene concept of beauty in photography. “Some people’s photography is an art,” Newton explained to Newsweek back in 2004, in a quote that introduces the show. “Mine is not. If they happen to be exhibited in a gallery or museum, that’s fine. But that’s not why I do them. I’m a gun to hire.” But one which hit the bull’s eye at a certain moment in the history of sensibility.

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