The Fashion of Helmut Newton and Bettina Rheims in Sydney

The Fashion of Helmut Newton and Bettina Rheims in Sydney
"Laetitia" 1989 "Leo I" 1990 by Bettina Rheims
(© Bettina Rheims Source: Art Gallery of New South Wales)

The work of Helmut Newton (1920-2004) and Bettina Rheims (1952- ) during the late 20th century was pivotal to the progression of fashion imagery into the 21st century.  Currently on show at the Art Gallery of New South Wales are more than 50 works by the two iconic photographers, from the Gallery’s photography collection.

The fashion of Helmut Newton and Bettina Rheims brings together the work of two photographers who, despite the generation difference, both explored the construction of gender identity through their photography. They challenged the conventional representations of women, but also – particularly in Rheims’ case – men.

The Art Gallery of NSW has a significant collection of Helmut Newton photographs. The 20 works in this exhibition are taken from the most important period of his career, the 1970s and 80s. According to the Art Gallery of New South Wales, “Newton is exemplary in his ability to expose the intimate connections between sex, clothes, gender, class, voyeurism and photography itself in his representations of women.”

Also on display are more than 30 photographs from Bettina Rheims’ series “Modern Lovers” (1990). This celebrated series marked an important shift in Rheims’ work, which had previously focused on a much more conventionally feminine depiction of women. In “Modern Lovers,” however, Rheims employs a neutral grey background and uses models scouted from the street, the oldest of whom was 20, to depict an androgynous image of youth.

 “Searching plays a significant role in photography. That is exactly what is suppressed in advertising and fashion photography,” Bettina Rheims once said.  Like many fashion photographers, Bettina Rheims has pursued projects which explore her personal notions of individual beauty, rather than that dictated by magazines and advertising agencies.  This is what makes her images so engaging.