Informing Contexts – Seduce, Amuse, Entertain
‘My job as a portrait photographer is to seduce, amuse and entertain.’
– Helmut Newton
(Portrait magazine, 2017)
As I have progressed through this MA course so far, I have drawn inspiration from various photographers. One is Helmut Newton. Like Newton, I believe my photographic raison d’être is to “seduce, amuse and entertain” my audience.
Figure 1: Sutherst 2017
Figure 2: Helmut Newton. Unknown Title. Unknown Date
I have prodded at gender roles in my images. However, I have reversed the gender roles often seen in other practitioners work. Unlike Newton, my female subjects are not objectified and is a playful campness with my male subjects. Newton’s image (figure 2) is cold and voyeuristic whilst my gaze in figure 1 looks much deeper. I have created a connection with my subjects to give a more intimate gaze, whilst Newton’s image is distant and misogynistic in my view. I am uncomfortable when viewing Newton’s image as there are dark connotations implied through the lack of eye contact and that makes the viewer feel like a ‘peeping Tom’. I shot my image to have a playfulness, with direct eye contact to reassure the viewer that the image does not have a darker undertone or meaning. I have developed a distinct collaboration between me and my subjects, creating an intimate scenario that enables them to feel comfortable and confident.
My image in figure 1 is seductive and amusing. The viewer is drawn into the image in order to interpret the meaning. The bright colours of the extreme styling, especially that used on the male subject, make the image eye-catching and are in complete contrast to the the stark black and white used in Newton’s image.
Figure 3: Sutherst 2017
Figure 4: Helmut Newton. 1981. Here they come II
Newton’s image “Here they come II” (figure 4) is one of my all-time favourite images. The main criticism I have of Newton’s image is the sterile background. This is an obviously staged image shot against a plain backdrop.
Compositionally though, I find the image interesting and pleasing to look at. The styling of the women is in stark contrast to his other version of this image where the women are all naked. I decided to use an outdoor location and extreme styling to create a fun take on the original image (figure 3). I also used male and female subjects of all shapes and sizes in my image to give it a different dynamic than Newton’s. Once again, I am not objectifying the females within my image.
The lighting in my image is harsher than that used by Newton. I used a combination of bright sunlight with a flash that lifted some of the shadows in each person’s face. As a stand-alone image, I feel I was successful creating something that would amuse and entertain my audience. The extreme styling and mis-match of subjects, draws the viewer in as the engage with the image to determine the message that everyone is beautiful and should be photographed.
Figure 5: Jemima Stehli. After Helmut Newton’s ‘Here They Come’ 1999
Newton’s image has been the inspiration for many other photographers since it was published. Jemima Stehli explores the objectification of the female body in Newton’s original image by placing herself into copies of his images. Figure 5 is from her series ‘After Helmut Newton’s ‘Here They Come’ 1999‘. By choosing to be both the object and subject in the image, Stehli is able to critique the original work. As a feminist, her practice focuses on the concept of objectification and power in the photographic work of male photographers.
Figure 6: Leonard Nimoy. The Full Body Project: 273-59. 2007
Leonard Nimoy also replicated the image as part of his series ‘The Full Body Project‘ (figure 6).
His subjects were all artistes from a burlesque group in San Francisco called the Fat Bottom Revue. When the photographs were first published, many people clicked past them and overlooked the message that Nimoy was trying to send out with his version of Newton’s image. As columnist for the Guardian, Lindy West (West: 2105) recalled “It was the first time in my life – I realise in retrospect – that I’d seen bodies like mine honoured instead of lampooned, presented with dignity instead of scorn, displayed as objects of beauty instead of as punchlines.” She does on to state “looking at Nimoy’s photographs was my very first exposure to the concept that my body was just as deserving of autonomy and respect as any thin body. Not only that, but my bigness is powerful.” Nimoy’s work went someway to challenge the women portrayed as merely objects in Newton’s work and to make us all proud of who were are, no matter what our size.
So, does my work “seduce, amuse and entertain” my audience? I portray everyone as equal and everyone as beautiful regardless of age, size, gender or ethnicity. I produce images that are a bit off kilter and that make people look for the meaning. I introduce humour and narrative into my images. By forcing my audience to engage with my work in order to interpret it, then I would say that I do seduce, amuse and entertain them.
Portrait magazine. (2017). Seduce Amuse Entertain. [online] Available at: http://www.portrait.gov.au/magazines/26/seduce-amuse-entertain [Accessed 08 Apr. 2017].
West, L. (2015). Leonard Nimoy’s photographs of fat, naked women changed my life. [online] the Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/commentisfree/2015/mar/03/leonard-nimoy-full-body-project [Accessed 01 April 2017].
Figure 2: Newton, H. Unknown title. From The Labels Couturier. 2017. Helmut Newton. The Story Behind The White Paper Background. The Labels Couturier. [online] Available at: https://thelabelscouturier.com/2014/09/05/helmut-newton-the- story-behind-the-white-paper-background/. [Accessed 01 April 2017].
Figure 4: Newton, H. 1981. Here they come II. From PDN Photo of the Day. 2017. Helmut Newton: White Women/Sleepless Nights/Big Nudes | PDN Photo of the Day. [online] Available at: http://potd.pdnonline.com/2013/06/20968/. [Accessed 01 April 2017].
Figure 5: Stehli, J.. After Helmut Newton’s ‘Here They Come’ .1999.From IL Juanrie Strydom. (2017). Artist profile – Jemima Stehli. [online] Available at: https://iljuanriestrydom.wordpress.com/2015/02/06/artist-profile-jemima-stehli/ [Accessed 01 April 2017].
Figure 6: Nimoy, L. ………. From Rmichelson.com. (2017). 273-59 ∙ The Full Body Project ∙ R. MICHELSON GALLERIES. [online] Available at: http://www.rmichelson.com/artists/leonard-nimoy/the-full-body-project/zz273-59/ [Accessed 01 April 2017].