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Helmut Newton's Office Love - A Visual Analysis

Helmut Newton's Office Love - A Visual Analysis

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Published by Kareem Farooq

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Published by: Kareem Farooq on Apr 18, 2012
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Kareem Farooq Visual Analysis: Helmut Newton’s Office Love

I feel bad for looking because this is a very intimate moment. On the other hand, shame on them for not being able to control themselves. I mean this is a workplace, not a bedroom. Perhaps, I am just jealous; they look delightfully sinful. She covers her face with her arm as though she is ashamed of her actions, yet she still does not restrain herself. A moment as passionate and sultry as this could only have been spontaneous. I can almost hear the uncertain, rhythmic moans, “Yes, no, yes, no, yes… Yes!” Now, I may be getting ahead of myself because the truth is, this is a staged photo; however, it is the quality and perspective of the photo which compels me to cover my eyes at first then peep at the image through my fingers. Helmut Newton’s photographic works are characteristically stylistic and explicitly sexual, yet have maintained a certain unwavering eloquence throughout his career. This photo titled, Office Love, was taken in Paris in 1976. Newton’s choice to frame the lovers within an iris places the viewer of the image at a distance from the couple, as if we are spying on them with a telescope. There is no question that this voyeuristic feeling results from watching films and television shows where this same soft, round frame is used to imitate point of view shots from binoculars and telescopes. The darken edges around the image tell use we are behind something and peeping through. Depending on our own

nature, we will either keep staring or look away. Since it is a photograph, it may not be instinctual to look away, but staring does not exactly feel proper. That’s what I love about Helmut Newton’s work. While I could not walk through a gallery of his work with my mother, I could buy her a book of his photographic works because she would be able to appreciate the work for its artistic and aesthetic integrity. The male subject remains fully clothed in a dark, charismatic suit, bending over the female subject who allows herself to give into temptation. Her white dress dramatically clashes with his dark suit. This observable contrast as well as the position of the lovers reveal a simple narrative to the viewers. She has subdued herself to the temptation of he who is tall, dark, and handsome. When the moment arose, neither could let the opportunity go to waste. Perhaps, the two escaped from the mundane mingling at an office party in a skyscraper into a vacant office, seemingly away from any outside attention. However, they must have forgotten to lock the door or cover the windows. Their unrestrained lust for each other prevented any thought to “cover up.” The rectangular shape of the room highlights the perspective through the iris. The table, windows, chairs, mirror, wall moldings, radiator, and the overall linear shape of the office itself all lend a role in the composition of the photo. The lines created by these rectangular objects lead our eyes directly to the lovers. It is almost as if a pattern of squares places the two directly in a box in the lower, right center of the frame. The umbrella-shaped lamp above them completes the frame—gently hovering over them as a manifestation of a lurking presence accenting their bodies from the background. My personal admiration for Newton’s work transpires through the contradictory makeup of his fashion photography. I am, of course, referring to Newton’s work with such reputable fashion magazines as Vogue, Elle, and so many others, and his lack of clothing on many of his models. He has such an explicit style that he does not need to show off fashion trends; his style is a fashion. That’s what these magazines look for when they hire him. He is not showing off big names and designers. He’s showing off sexual repose and chic, uninhibited spontaneity—something requiring the uttermost confidence between the model and photographer. His models all carry an expression of wildness, sensuality, and general personal satisfaction, whereas most models in fashion magazines hardly show any interest in their faces, as if they are too good for the photo. Helmut’s models are open and excited—fully exposed and yet extraordinarily comfortable. One reason Newton is able such a level of comfort with such famous models is his simplistic style. He prefers to shoot outside, but if he is hired for a studio shoot, he still maintains his simplistic style. In an interview with Leeta Harding for Index Magazine Helmut mentioned, “Did you see the last series I did for American Vogue, the bathing suits? They were done in a very big studio in Hollywood. They set up all these sophisticated, very professional lights. But I said, ‘Get rid of them.’ I used my 35mm camera and flash. I

generally use very, very little lighting.” I could not believe this when I read it. As an amateur photographer myself, I could not imagine substituting the most expensive lighting equipment for a flash. However, his models must have felt more at ease with a single flash than they would have otherwise been under huge, hot studio lights. Helmut had that understanding with his subjects. If they were uncomfortable, he could not have achieved such sensational work. Unlike Helmut Newton’s other work, Office Love does not place his subjects in an upfront position. The man’s face is buried behind the woman’s left breast, and the woman covers her face with her arm. This moment of personal intimacy is viewed from a very subjective perspective with the use of the iris peephole—also not a norm in Newton’s work. However, the sexual nature of the photo, and its high society setting maintains a quality that is consistent in Newton’s work. Some may say Helmut Newton is simply exploiting the female body to the umpteenth-degree, but I disagree. While most of his work is recognized for its explicit sexuality, the photographer himself explains, “My job as a portrait photographer is to seduce, amuse and entertain. Most of my work is meant to be funny. Because I’m quite timid myself, I try to determine whether my subject will be receptive to a wild idea before I suggest anything. I would never force anyone to do anything. I never push very far. I think subjects pose so openly for me because I inspire confidence or because I’m much older than most of them.” (www.salon.com) Personally, I have a hard time believe that any female model hired for a Helmut Newton shoot and familiar with the photographer’s work would enter the shoot not expecting to be either partially or fully naked by the end of the day.

SOURCES: http://www.salon.com/07/features/helmut.html Article, “Too Many Naked Women” By Joel Stratte-McClure http://www.indexmagazine.com/interviews/helmut_newton.shtml Interview with Leeta Harding June 21, 2001 http://www.horvatland.com/pages/entrevues/08-newton-en_en.htm Interview with Frank Horvat Monte Carlo, October 1986 www.rsf.com Reporters without Borders Magazine

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