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Learning From The Master

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In the world of fashion photography, few are as revered as the late Helmut Newton, whose provocative, often erotic photos were a mainstay of fashion glossies, including U.S. and Paris editions of Vogue. His influence and his legacy are now on view at New York’s Clic Gallery, where his widow has curated a show of work by three of his former assistants—the only three, according to June Newton, who became photographers in their own right.

The exhibition brings together Mark Arbeit, Just Loomis, and George Holz, all of whom met Newton as students at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. (Hence the show’s title: The Boys From Pasadena.) And while each has gone on to a successful career—the three count fashion work for Vogue, Vanity Fair, Harper’s Bazaar, and The New York Times Magazine among their credits—they view their time in Newton’s studio as formative. “I waited a long time to get taught by Helmut,” Loomis says. “I was always looking for a little bit of the genius to rub off. I used to get up real close while changing film, hoping to rub elbows.” The genius, when it came, was dispensed mostly in gnomic bons mots—”photography is a matter of subject” is one typically impenetrable utterance—but of course, Newton’s long and close-up experience with the cream of the fashion world helped, too. Loomis remembers an evening strolling Miami Beach looking into shop windows when Newton stopped to point out the dimples around the knees of the store’s mannequins: “Cindy has those same dimples.”

But despite the occasional riddle, Newton, say his protégés, was nothing if not precise. “We could go to Helmut for advice on any aspect of the photo shoot, fashion or portraiture,” Arbeit remembered. “Helmut controlled every aspect of the photo shoot. He would get involved in every detail; the clothes, makeup, hair, shoes, location, and if the photograph was shot day or nighttime. As far as fashion photography, he reminded you, ‘Never forget why you’re shooting a fashion spread—to show the clothes.’ By watching Helmut work, it taught me how to pay attention to every detail in a photograph and to continue editing the image until everything is perfect.”

The Boys From Pasadena is on view through January 30, 2011 at Clic Gallery, 255 Centre Street, NYC, www.clicgallery.com.

Photo: Mark Arbeit

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Dept. of Culture