Less Kinky, More Soulful: A Retrospective of June Newton's Photography

When Helmut Newton came down with the flu while living in Paris in 1970, he was faced with a quandary: Who would photograph the Gitanes cigarette advertising campaign he was slated to shoot that week? In stepped his wife, June, a moderately accomplished actress who went by the stage name “Alice Springs — which after that successful campaign would also become her pseudonym behind the lens. Now, an exhibition that takes its name from that alias is on display at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin, representing the first retrospective of June Newton’s work.

The show consists of approximately 250 photographs taken by June, now in her late eighties and living in Monte Carlo. Though not as prolific as her late husband — whose 66-pound book of photos, SUMO, she edited — her work is as consistently seductive as Helmut's, but in a way that seems more insidious and subtle than her husband’s in-your-face kink. As June herself once explained, the difference between her style and that of her husband was always significant, even as they captured many of the same subjects: “You will never see a regard in anybody’s eyes in Helmut’s pictures," she told the Guardian. "You will only see the eyes. He wasn’t interested in people. ‘I’m not interested in soul,’ he said. But I was, and I tried to steal them.”

 

One might think it was difficult for June to both compete with her husband as an artist and contend with the hoards of naked, often scandalously-posed women who along with June were the frequent subjects of Helmut’s work. (Helmut once dismissed the latter issue with the ambiguous: “Well, she’s Australian, you know.”) Certainly it seems that Helmut did not make the 55-year union easy. Before their wedding, he confessed to June that she could only ever be his second love, after his own photography. And he said he was only envious of one of June's works, a portrait of Graham Greene

June Newton’s statement that “a woman photographer can never, ever get what a man can out of a woman” is certainly incendiary, but considering the portraits and even the commercial work in Alice Springs, its clear that her appraisal of the soulfulness of her work versus her husband's was on target. ARTINFO has compiled a slide show of June's work that illustrates her uncanny ability, as she described it, to “make people relax, dwell within themselves, and just look at me.”