'Light is the magician'

Helmut Newton photographed at the Beverly Hilton HotelLinda references the quality of California’s winter light in her blog today. Back in the 80s, while still working at the LA Herald Examiner (may it’s vibrant collective soul rest in a high place in newspaper heaven), I had an opportunity to photograph Helmut Newton, a photographer whose work I much admire.

I knew that he loved the light of the low, diffuse winter sun in Southern California, so I wrangled the writer and publicist to set the interview at the pool of the Beverly Hills hotel, the better to put photog in his preferred light just to see what would happen.

We got off to a bit of a rocky start. He noticed the 24mm wide-angle on my Nikon, and like most good fashion photographers feared I was trying to distort him, or worse, make him look fat. I had to mount a 50mm and back off, which resulted in this shot, about as good as I could get that day. Newton’s expression, and his avuncular appearance (a contrast to the look of his work, much of which is dark and graphically sexual) saved the picture, particularly when the Style section editor chose to run it big.

Later I photographed him at G. Ray Hawkins’ gallery, with a Hasselblad and good French strobes, and he was much more at ease. We even talked about the winter light: he told me he loved to spend some part of the winter months in L.A., looking for models (he found one in a diner) and settings to exploit the light.

I Googled Helmut Newton images, but didn’t find a lot of his outdoor L.A. shots, saving this kind of kitschy nude: the best shot is really this portrait of Helmut by his wife June, aka Alice Springs, which I think is hilarious. I love it… and the light… the quote, title of this post, is from Henri Cartier-Bresson, btw…


About Chris Gulker

Chris Gulker, a self-described Infuential Blogger, lived in Menlo Park, California with spouse Linda. He passed away in late October 2010.
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2 Responses to 'Light is the magician'

  1. pauldwaite says:


    And, based on his wife’s portrait, the guy had some great legs.

  2. cg says:

    Didn’t he just?

    I think standards for ‘family photos’ are a bit different for those born and raised in Berlin…

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