101 Helmut Newton Quotes

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Looking for the best Helmut Newton quotes? Then you’ve come to the right place.

With a career spanning five decades, Helmut Newton is regarded as one of the greatest photographers of all-time.

Fact: Helmut Newton didn’t become a successful photographer overnight. He got his first assignment for Australian Vogue at the age of 36.

It took years of hard work, determination, and perseverance to build his reputation and for him to learn his craft. But when he did arrive, fashion photography and photography in general would never be the same again.

Love his work or hate his work, Newton left the world of photography in a very different state than when he found it.

Thanks to his books, documentaries and many interviews, we are lucky enough to learn from his experiences and get a glimpse into his world.

Helmut Newton Quotes Collection

So, whether you’re looking for some inspiration, a bit of motivation or just need a quick pick-me-up before a photoshoot, check out these 101 Helmut Newton quotes.

Read them, be inspired by them, and then get out there and make some incredible images with the help of Helmut.

To learn more about Helmut Newton, check out our: Complete Guide to Helmut Newton

Photography Philosophy

Voyeurism in photography is a necessary and professional sickness. Look at, capture, observe, frame, target. These are the laws of our field. The world is totally different when I look at it through the viewfinder. I always take a step back from what I see through my camera. I use it as a screen.

The point of my photography has always been to challenge myself. To go a little further than my Germanic discipline and Teutonic nature would permit me to.

1996 interview with Salon

I have a very short attention span. That’s why I could never make a movie. For me, any job that lasts more than two days is no good. It was the same when I was a champion swimmer, a hundred meters was the maximum, fifty was much better.

Good photographers are as educated children – they can be seen but not heard.

The first 10,000 shots are the worst. (Cartier Bresson also said this)

Photography is 10% inspiration and 90% moving furniture.

The beauty of photography is that there’s a mystery about it. You’re just dealing with that one moment.

I use what God gives me, but I arrange the world the way I like it .

Taking photographs became the way I coped with things. My wife had a serious operation that upset me: I started photographing her. When I had something wrong with me, I used a camera. It helped. I photographed my doctors, and myself in the hospital mirror. I have a theory that in war, or any trauma if a photographer has a camera between him and the horror, he can face it. If there’s something that upsets me, I get my camera out.”

Amateur Photographer (November 11th 1995 p32)

Style

Look, I’m not an intellectual – I just take pictures.

I have mixed feelings about those sorts of things. When I see it done by interesting young people, I think it’s very valid. But when established photographers, people in their forties, copy me and get a lot of money, well, I find that to be very stupid.

We all copy someone at one time or another life, but then you still need to go its own way.

I work it out very carefully, and then I do something that looks as if it went wrong. This is also why I abandoned Kodachrome, it looks too professional, too fine grain, too perfect, I’d rather get what I call funky color, I don’t mind if it’s all wrong – as long as it’s not too horrible. For the same reasons, I like it when the camera is not quite straight, when something happens that’s not perfect. But of course, I start off with professionalism.

I used to hate doing color. I hated transparency film. The way I did color was by not wanting to know what kind of film was in my camera.

Everything that is beautiful is a fake. The most beautiful lawn is plastic.

Photography as Art

I hate dishonesty in pictures: the disgusting image shot in the name of an artistic principle. Blurry images. Grainy images. Bad technique.

There is no message in my photos. They are quite simple and don’t need any explanation. If by chance they seem a little complex or if you need a while to understand them, it’s simply because they are full of details and that a lot of things are happening. But usually they are very simple.

The desire to discover, the desire to move, to capture the flavor, three concepts that describe the art of photography.

In my vocabulary there are two bad words: art and good taste.

Speaking in Frames From the Edge.

Some people’s photography is an art. Mine is not. If they happen to be exhibited in a gallery or a museum, that`s fine. But that’s not why I do them. I’m a gun for hire.

Art is a dirty word in photography. All this fine art crap is killing it already.

The Work

I only take pictures for money or pleasure.

When I did my first cover for a magazine called The Australian Post, I ran around to all the newspaper stands, with tears in my eyes, to look at it. But it was impossible to live off fashion photography in Australia. So, in order to eat and to survive, I did weddings. I absolutely detested it.

Since the commercialization and banality of editorial magazine pages have made this work uninteresting, advertising has become an increasingly important part of my work.

I worry myself sick, I swear to you, I think every photographer must. When I go off a job, when I drive home or take a plane, I go through it all and keep saying to myself: “I should have done it this way and not that way.

The beauty of photography is that it’s comparatively cheap to produce, can be done quickly with the minimum of personnel and equipment, and if you screw up one job there is always another one that might work out—also, one does not have to get up early in the morning.

Helmut Newton – Autobiography (2002)

It began when I was so ill that there was a good chance of dying. I promised myself that if I survived I would never again pander to a magazine’s requests or follow the ideas of art directors. I would only make images which were personal, which arose out of my own life.

Fashion Photography

I gave up fashion because I wanted to do nudes. Fashion is easier. Fashion hides things. Photographing someone totally naked is very difficult, trying to get skin texture right.

They often ask me to shoot for them. But I say no. I think an old guy like me ought not take pages away from young photographers who need the exposure.

What I find interesting is working in a society with certain taboos – and fashion photography is about that kind of society. To have taboos, then to get around them – that is interesting.

American Photo, January/February 2000, page 67

I think a fashion photograph is almost a social document that will take you back. The older it gets, the more interesting it is. It shows you how people lived. In my pictures, anyway.

I had found out that I did not function well in the studio, that my imagination needed the reality of the outdoors. I also realized that only as a fashion photographer could I create my kind of universe and take up my camera in the chic place and in what the locals called la zone, which were working-class districts, construction sites, and so on. To work for French Vogue at that time was wonderful: Who else would have published these nudes or the crazy and sexually charged fashion photographs which I would submit to the editor in chief?

American Photo, January/February 2000, page 90

Portraits

My job as a portrait photographer is to seduce, amuse and entertain.

When I do a portrait, I don’t think of an idea, I feel a great relaxation, though it may be difficult psychologically. Starting to work this way has been like a weight falling off my mind, all of a sudden I felt free.

To this question, “What people do you like to photograph?” my answer is “Those I love, those I admire, and those I hate.

American Photo, January/February 2000, page 90

I like photographing the people I love, the people I admire, the famous, and especially the infamous. My last infamous subject was the extreme right-wing French politician Jean-Marie Le Pen.

It’s quite true that what I am aiming at, even when I take portraits, is to get a scandalous picture. I would love to be a paparazzo.

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 anybody to do anything. I never push very far. I think subjects pose so openly for me because I inspire confidence or because I’m older than most of them.

With portraits, it’s important to intrude. I’m an admirer of paparazzi – that’s the ultimate intrusion. But I ask my subjects to present themselves in front of my camera. I think it’s important if you do a portrait… I will obviously decide how I photograph it, the place and the situation, but it’s very important that I don’t make this person into another person.

Sometimes I think : “I’ve got it”, but sometimes I just brake up because I can’t go on anymore, even if I haven’t got it because I don’t know how to do any better. I just say: “It’s no good flogging a dead horse.” The case of that picture was exceptional, I think it happened very late in the sitting. And it was the only one.

Helmut on Photographing Ava Gardner
Ava Gardner by Helmut Newton, 1984 © Helmut Newton Estate

There is a difference between models and real people. It’s very different working with somebody you pay or doing a portrait of a personality, like an actress. Actresses are fragile in front of the camera, all women are, but actresses more so. I understand them perfectly well, they have so much to protect, so they are insecure. When you like somebody and you want to get a good picture of her you’ve got to tread very carefully. That’s why I wouldn’t let anybody, not even June, photograph me during such a sitting.

Helmut Newton Quotes On the Process

I spend a lot of time preparing. I think a lot about what I want to do. I have prep books, little notebooks in which I write everything down before a sitting. Otherwise I would forget my ideas.

I have a notebook where I write down all my thoughts: the ideas, models and locations. If I don’t write it down, then I forget everything.

Sometimes I’ll say to a model, “Look dangerous, be dangerous” I talk to myself like a dog, sometimes I talk loud

My photos are like stories that have no beginning, no middle and no end.

People like Polaroids, because they’re unique. There are no negatives. You’ve got it once and no more. That’s the charm and fascination about Polaroids – that they can’t be duplicated.

Locations

I don’t like white paper backgrounds. A woman does not live in front of white paper. She lives on the street, in a motor car, in a hotel room.

Sometimes it happens, not very often, that God chooses to give me that ray of sunshine or that cloud, at the right moment. That’s why I work outside because I know that in the studio, God can’t do anything for me, all he could do would be to send a thunderstorm that cuts off the electricity. Outside he can help me, he could also fuck me up by sending a lot of rain, that would make it difficult, but he very rarely sends me light that’s no good to me. Practically any light, somehow or other, I can deal with.

I have always avoided photographing in the studio. A woman does not spend her life sitting or standing in front of a seamless white paper background. Although it makes my life more complicated, I prefer to take my camera out into the street… and places that are out of bounds for photographers have always had a special attraction for me.

I think night gives a very mysterious quality to a woman in the street. I love that.

In the photographs themselves there’s a definite contrast between the figures and the location – I like that kind of California backyard look; clapboard houses, staircases outdoors.

I am very lazy. I hate to look for places for filming and never shoot further than three kilometers from the hotel.

Sigourney Weaver by Helmut Newton
Sigourney Weaver by Helmut Newton 1992 © Helmut Newton Estate

Hotels

I love all hotels. From sumptuous, old, palatial hotels like the Ritz to modern, depressing, cold buildings. A hotel is practical. It costs less to rent an entire floor of a hotel than to rent a studio.

When I photograph in a hotel or a studio, I am always up against the wall. I don’t like the studio. I hate walls, and I’m not at ease except outdoors.

Lighting

My work is very realistic. Nothing computer-generated. I never work with electric light, only natural. Look at my pictures and you’ll see none of them has been manipulated in the dark room. I just expose the negative and it gets printed straight. It’s what you might call ‘old-fashioned photography’.

Growing up, I was surrounded by Nazi imagery, like everybody in Germany, and for a boy obsessed with photography it left an indelible impression on me.

Shooting in the Brelin underground [subway]stations. Even today I love photographing by the light of street lamps or in the glare of my flash.

American Photo, January/February 2000, page 90

Hard Light

My wife was an actress when I met her. I photographed her productions. I love stage lighting. I was brought up with twenties and thirties American cinema lighting. The Marlene Dietrich look. I like hard light, which throws deep shadow on the face. Most photographers shun the midday sun: they like softness, twilight. I call that the shitty hour. I love the desert, when the sun is high and unforgiving in the sky. Thirties portraits of women with long lashes which throw black shadows on the cheek. I’ve just done Jude Law like that, in heavy shadow.

George Hurrell, I admire enormously – wonderful lighting. He became a great friend. I [also]loved Josef von Sternberg’s lighting of Dietrich in Shanghai Express.

Interview with Bob Carlos Clarke

Helmut Newton Quotes On Equipment

I always kept my equipment down to a minimum of two cameras, each with three lenses, a flash that would clip onto the camera body, and one assistant. I did not want to spend time thinking about hardware; I wanted that time to concentrate on the girl and the world around her.

American Photo, January/February 2000, page 90  

Technically, I have not changed very much. Ask my assistants. They’ll tell you, I am the easiest photographer to work with. I don’t have heavy equipment. I shoot with a 35mm Canon and work out of one bag . Ninety-percent of the time it’s on automatic. I even use the flash that’s on the camera. It’s really an amateur’s equipment.

Recently I tried a Leica CL. It’s a marvelous camera, but I can’t use it. I don’t feel my images through its viewfinder.

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.

Index Magazine Interview with Leeta Harding, 2001

Editing

I always show my photographs to June. I make a choice and she makes one, sometimes we agree, more often we are totally opposed. But she is an excellent editor, while I really hate editing, I think it’s boring.

What I find very interesting is that when I get my contact sheets back from the lab, I would choose one shot, but when I look at it a year later something else will interest me.

That’s why one must never throw anything away. Everything changes, your whole idea about things changes, at least mine does. I do have certain taboos. But these also change, they get less and less as I get older. I look at things in an entirely different way today than I did five years ago.

I was lucky to have my wife as the art director, and it turned out to be quite something – a great success. I’m very proud of it.

And there is another thing that I think is important. You tend to go in close. Well, I pull back. Back, back, back. Because I found that what worried me when I took the picture, some car going by, some persons, something in the background that shouldn’t be there, has become fascinating years later because it’s part of the time captured.

Being Controversial

I shot for Playboy magazine for twenty years, and even my work for them sometimes were too risky.

All that sadomasochism still looks interesting to me today. I always carry chains and padlocks in my car trunk, not for me but for my photos – by the way, I never make the knots real tight.

[What do you say to critics who say your work is misogynistic?] They are silly! First of all, why would I spend my life with women, whether they are dressed or undressed, if I didn’t like women? Another thing is that in all the photographs, the women are triumphant and the men are just toys. They are just accessories and always servile to the women.

It is interesting to compare European and American mores in regard to my work. One will notice that most of my European images have a stronger sexual content that those destined for American publication. The term ‘political correctness’ has always appalled me, reminding me of Orwell’s ‘thought police’ and fascist regimes.

American Photo, January/February 2000, page 90

I don’t think sex should be fun. Sex is deadly serious. Otherwise it’s not sexy. To me there’s got to be a great element of sin to get people all excited. I don’t see any fun. That’s an American attitude, fun in sex.

I am very attracted by bad taste-it is a lot more exciting than that supposed good taste which is nothing more than a standardized way of looking at things.

In Hollywood last year, I spent 12 hours in a porn-movie company. I found it comical, but not a turn-on.

Photographing Women

Helmut Newton, Italian Vogue, Bordighera, Italy, 1982 © Helmut Newton Estate

There must be a certain look of availability in the women I photograph. I think the woman who gives the appearance of being available is sexually much more exciting than a woman who’s completely distant. This sense of availability I find erotic.

But I like a certain cold look. Because I hate sentimentality and romanticism. I like romanticism in my landscapes but not in women.

The right girl, at the right time, has always been my inspiration.

I hate sentimentality and romanticism. You should feel that, under the right conditions, all women would be available.

I like photographing women who appear to know something of life. I recently did a session with a great beauty, a movie star in her thirties. I photographed her twice within three weeks and the second time I said: “You’re much more beautiful today than you were three weeks ago.” And she replied: “But I’m also three weeks older.”

Always Victorious

My women are always victorious.

In the early sixties, the women had a waist. And in the eighties there were Swedish, German and American models – they were stacked like truckers, and I loved it.

[On what makes a woman sexy] Ah! I think it’s nothing to do with beauty. It’s nothing to do with if she has big boobs, little boobs or no boobs. I think it all goes through the head. It’s intellect. I think that what goes on in the head of a woman is much more important than whether she’s blonde or brunette or whatever.

Bourgeois women are more erotic than a hairdresser or a secretary. Elegance, education, environment – I believe in these things, I sometimes feel ashamed for it, but it’s true. Woman of high society are sexy in nature.

Women I shoot are available, but their availability depends on the time and money you can spend on them.

Working with Models

My camera is often low because I like the illusion of looking up. I like superwomen, physically strong and masterful.

Women assume marvelous expressions when they look at themselves. They lose themselves in their own image. It’s fascinating to observe and shoot. It really inspires me physically and mentally.

The women you see in my photographs, are my ideal women. The less I know of them, the better. The more I know, the more disillusioned I become. I lose the glamour, the aura, the illusion of beauty.

In a particular photo one girl has a whip clenched between her teeth. She looked great. But I think Mr. Hermes had a fit when he saw the photos.

I’ve always loved cowboys – how they look, go. Do cowboy hands are always ready to grab the gun. So I do the cowboys of the girls who are always ready to grab the gun.

Helmut explains the gunfighter stance

Nudes

It was not until 1980 that I photographed what I consider to be my first nude. In quick succession, I executed the Big Nudes, the Naked and Dressed, and, in Los Angeles, the Domestic Nudes series. The fact that the models in these photographs were the same girls I used in my fashion work gave them a certain elegance and coolness that I was looking for in my work.

American Photo, January/February 2000, page 90

I was never interested in naked men. I’ve done quite a lot of nudes of myself. When I’m in a hotel room and bored I’ll get a camera and shoot myself in the mirror. But I haven’t shown many and I’m getting a bit old for that.

The photographs don’t arouse me. All I can think about is the hard work it took to make them.

A nude model when she’s nude, she is stripped of everything, she’s either got it or she hasn’t got it, there’s nothing much I can add on to it. But what is interesting it to take a woman who is totally covered by fashion, is to maybe see something which one shouldn’t see.

From Frames from the Edge (1989)

Final Words

Which of these Helmut Newton quotes was your favorite? Let us know in the comment section below.

To learn about the more about Helmut Newton and his work, then I recommend reading our blog post: The Complete Guide to Helmut Newton

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Founder of Photogpedia.com. Photography enthusiast, occasional filmmaker, part-time writer (surprise, surprise) and full-time dreamer. Rediscovered photography in 2012 and have been trying to level up my photography skills since (I'm getting there) #chasingthecreative

2 Comments

  1. His best quote from ‘Frames from the Edge’,I think, when discussing working with fashion models was something along the lines of:

    “You know, they’re all over the place, like an old woman;s piss. You can’t shout at the, When I shout at them, I get angry at myself”

    Pure Helmut!

    • That’s a great quote. I also enjoyed his comments about his printer in the same documentary, “he’s like my mistress or something.” There’s only one Helmut Newton. Thanks for reading.

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