Guy Regal’s first exposure to German Australian photographer Helmut Newton’s provocative images felt “like a punch to the face.” “I was in my early twenties, dealing in period furniture and twentieth-century American art out of Southampton,” says the 53-year-old, Manhattan-based art and antiques dealer. “I’d never seen anything like it.” His client’s original Helmut Newton prints and copy of Sumo (Taschen), Newton’s gargantuan photography book, served as windows into a world that Regal had heard of, but never seen. “I felt like a voyeur alongside him,” he says. Tonight, Regal unveils “Naked With a Fur Coat,” an exhibition of 33 never-before-seen images from a private collection taken by the master of black and-white between 1938 and 1994. Though chock full of sinister details, voyeuristic narratives, and power dynamics, the collection—presented in a cavernous, late-19th-century, Beaux-Arts bank turned luxury condominiums at 49 Chambers Street—also shows a softer side of Newton through apparent and disguised self portraits. Here, Surface exclusively shares six images from the collection with commentary from Regal, who, 28 years after discovering Newton’s work, still remains utterly starstruck.
“Naked With a Fur Coat”willbe on view to the public at 49 Chambers street from Jan. 25 through 28. The show will then relocate to Regal’s New York Design Center gallery at 200 Lexington Ave. and will remain on view through March 2.
Checkpoint Evelyn Rothschild, Paris, 1996
“Here Newton is pushing photography by using video to produce an eerie, indirect portrait. Newton isn’t quite getting [billionaire British financier] Evelyn Rothschild. He’s protected in a bank vault. He’s a mystery. You only see him through a screen. Rothschild likely wanted to be seen this way—overtly showing his power and wealth in a setting removed from the everyday. That’s what he and his family have always been about. He certainly wouldn’t have let Newton shoot him there unless this was something he wanted. Newton shot many great celebrities of his time with incredible respect and admiration. While I think he adored that privilege, he was to an extent controlling their image and had power over them.”
Helmut Newton Self Portrait, Berlin, 1936–38
“Newton looks about 35 years old here, but really he’s 17 or 18. He took this in Berlin before he left in 1938 as the Nazis were getting out of control. This is actually an old print that he photographed and then signed on the back. Although it’s very innocent and intimate, as he’s just starting out, it adheres to his style of self portraits. They’re never straightforward. His wife, June, definitely took more direct portraits of him, but every time I’ve seen an image of himself that he’s taken, he’s doing something. It’s not directly about him—it always involves something else.”
Helmut Newton Self Portrait With Wife June and Models, Vogue Studio Paris, 1981
“This image is truly multidimensional. This model [stands] very powerfully with a mysterious pair of legs beside her. His wife, who was an integral part of his career and a magnificent photographer herself, is seated across [next to the mirror]. And there’s Newton, quietly and humbly in the background. It feels like a statement of him at the time. It’s early in the height of his career. Even though he’s taking the picture of the model, he’s chosen to depict June very prominently and powerfully. He had a lot of respect for her.
“The gradations of gray in the model’s skin make her look almost like a piece of stone. It’s a soft image of her, yet there’s an impenetrability when you look at her in black-and-white. If this image were taken in color, it would be more sensuous—she’d be more available. Here there’s an empowerment allowed to the female form.”
Heather Looking Through a Keyhole, 1994
“This image is a statement about Newton being a voyeur. It’s a self portrait of sorts—he always considered himself a voyeur. It’s also an elegant, classic picture. There’s a 1940s charm and beauty there, but also something Hitchcock-esque about it. It feels beautiful and dangerous at the same time.”
Karl Lagerfeld, Paris, 1987
“I believe Newton took this image during a Vogue shoot. On one hand, every aspect of the image is incredibly staged—on the other hand, Lagerfeld looks very candid. There are two models posing in the foreground and behind them is a man holding an image of Lagerfeld behind his back. Everyone is looking ahead, accept for Lagerfeld. His expression says, ‘Who are you? We’re in the middle of something.’”
The Empowered Woman, Monte Carlo, 1994
“This image [was] taken in Monte Carlo during a shoot for Vogue focused on high heels.That’s Nadja Auermann from the shoulders down posed in an powerful, sculptural, Romanesque manner. But there’s a bizarre leg brace on her. If she were standing there without this restraint, nude, holding this chain, it would emit such strength. But this way, the structure both holds her aloft and holds her back. It shows that power doesn’t come without vulnerability.”
(Photos: Courtesy of Guy Regal from a private collector.)