In the Helmut Newton Stiftung in the Museum für Fotografie in Berlin the exhibition “America 1970s/80s” presents works by Evelyn Hofer, Sheila Metzner, Joel Meyerowitz, and Helmut Newton.
After taking a full-time position with the French edition of Vogue in 1961, Helmut Newton worked in parallel for the fashion magazine’s American edition as well. During this time, he produced images in both Europe and the USA. In New York, Newton delivered his photographs directly to Alexander Liberman, who was the editorial director of American Vogue from the 1960s to the 1990s – not to mention a successful painter, sculptor, and photographer himself.
Newton liked the United States and the sense of freedom it offered, and he regularly commuted between the Old and New Worlds. In the 1970s, most of Newton’s American fashion and nude photographs were shot in New York, Las Vegas, Miami, and Los Angeles for various magazines; Newton included some of these in his second photography book, Sleepless Nights (1978).
After 1980, when Helmut and June Newton began traveling regularly to Los Angeles to spend the winter months at Chateau Marmont, he made numerous portraits of the “famous and infamous” in and around Hollywood for magazines such as Egoïste, Interview, Vanity Fair, and New Yorker, as well as some nudes for Playboy. The images presented in this exhibition clearly show how Newton’s pictorial language changed during his time in the USA and that portraiture became increasingly important for him.
The portraits taken by Joel Meyerowitz in Provincetown, Massachusetts, were made around the same time as the Newton images presented. Every summer in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Meyerowitz retreated from New York City to the idyllic former fishing village of Provincetown. With his large-format camera he captured images of like-minded free spirits who were also there for a summer holiday by the sea surround by nature. Shot mostly outdoors, his subjects include men and women, young and old, alone or as a couple. We see intense and curious glances back into the camera and only a few poses. The people, including numerous friends and acquaintances of Meyerowitz, appear open, unaffected, authentic.
Meyerowitz’s extensive portrait series was not produced on commission but was an independent project. Seen as a whole, his series is a fascinating study of a liberal, individualistic community on the American East Coast. They represent a different, freer and sometimes more permissive America than we know today. Meyerowitz recently rediscovered these portraits in his archive, and for the first time a selection was published in book form in autumn 2019. They are now being publicly exhibited for the first time at the Helmut Newton Foundation.
The American photographer Sheila Metzner had a very close friendship with Helmut and June Newton. Bearing witness to this special relationship are the private photographs they took of each other in the South of France. These previously unpublished images are now on display in two showcases in the exhibition. In her main work, Sheila Metzner often arranges minimalist objects on a similarly minimalist stage as pure form. Photographed at close range, they appear as an apparition of themselves, condensed into metaphysical essence. The delicate tones and softness of the photographs, created as Fresson prints – which evoke the bromoil prints by the avant-gardists of the 1910s – transport their content of floral and artistic forms into the realm of daydreams.
People also appear repeatedly in Sheila Metzner’s work, be it her own five children or the female and male models who feature in her sophisticated fashion shoots or as nude, odalisque beauties. Metzner, who still lives in New York, visited Joel Meyerowitz in Provincetown in the late 1970s and had her picture taken there by him—this portrait is also on view in the show. Thus this exhibition, which is like a trip back in time to a progressive and cool America, comes full circle in a number of ways.
Finally, June’s Room presents 30 photographs taken by Evelyn Hofer in New York in the 1960s and ‘70s – a personal portrait of the city that includes street scenes and panoramas, interiors and portraits, in black-and-white and color. In particular, her subtle color images of everyday life in New York, printed using a dye-transfer process, are, like those by Saul Leiter and Helen Levitt, pioneering achievements of poetic magical realism in street photography, which influenced following generations of photographers.
Hofer left her native Germany with her family in 1933 for Madrid, followed by Paris, Zurich, and Mexico, before settling in New York in 1946. There she worked for fashion magazines, among others, and also on independent book projects, always using a large-format plate camera and tripod. As a result, her work style was methodical, concentrated, and slow, excluding spontaneous reactions in front of and behind the camera.