Richard Avedon and Helmut Newton were both influential and iconic photographers, yet their styles were notably distinct.
Richard Avedon, known for his captivating portraits and fashion photography, emphasized capturing the essence and personality of his subjects. His style often involved portraying individuals in a candid, straightforward manner, focusing on their emotions and expressions. Avedon’s work was characterized by its clean, minimalist approach, often utilizing plain backgrounds to draw attention to the subject. His photographs had a way of revealing the raw and genuine nature of his subjects, creating a profound connection between the viewer and the person in the image.
On the other hand, Helmut Newton was recognized for his provocative and highly stylized fashion and nude photography. Newton’s work often featured bold and erotic imagery, frequently in glamorous and extravagant settings. His photographs were known for their theatrical, high-contrast, and bold composition. Newton’s style was daring, often exploring themes of power, sexuality, and the human form in a manner that challenged societal norms. His images exuded a sense of dominance and luxury, creating a unique blend of fashion and fine art photography.
While Avedon focused on capturing the essence of his subjects with a more natural and intimate approach, Newton’s work was often characterized by its boldness, provocative themes, and a strong sense of narrative, pushing the boundaries of traditional fashion photography. Both photographers had a significant impact on the fashion and photography worlds, each leaving behind a distinct and lasting legacy in the field.
Richard Avedon, undoubtedly a photography master, had an objective vision, excelling in capturing the essence of his subjects, irrespective of their backgrounds or professions. Working meticulously in a controlled studio atmosphere, he carefully managed the lighting on his subjects, frequently employing white backdrops or painted scenes. This technique became the standard as other photographers aimed to emulate his methods. Avedon’s distinctive ‘look’ became widely accepted in society due to the media’s saturation with his style, making it a societal and artistic norm.
Avedon’s utilization of lighting, set design, and props in theater arts for various publications shaped a narrative that significantly impacted global trends. This influence led to continuous hiring by publishers, recognizing him as a producer of imagery known for its simplicity and beauty.
Avedon’s style emphasized capturing intricate details in shadows and highlights, resulting in evenly lit images devoid of harsh shadows and intense contrasts. This approach mirrored Ansel Adams’ method of creating the negative, akin to the contemporary approach of today’s high-definition images where shadow details are accentuated, and highlights are moderated. However, unlike the present digital process, Avedon’s final images were crafted through darkroom printing, incorporating meticulous touch-ups to achieve the desired visual impact.
Avedon’s distinctive style has significantly influenced photographers across the globe, with many aspiring to emulate its unique appearance and allure, viewing it as a strategy to enhance their client base and elevate sales. The far-reaching impact of his approach has surpassed Avedon’s initial anticipations, leading to widespread adoption that, in some cases, inadvertently relegated individual self-expression within the realm of photography. This widespread emulation has, in some instances, led to a sense of conformity, where a photographer’s voice and creativity might take a backseat to conform to Avedon’s established style in fear of criticism, disapproval, or becoming undesirable.
The pressure to conform to standards set by predecessors is truly regrettable in a society that otherwise promotes and encourages artistic expression. It represents the hypocrisy of people in general.
Helmut Newton didn’t concern himself with the notion of being an artist and never identified as one. He firmly viewed himself solely as a photographer, not an influencer, despite the undeniable impact he had on the fashion industry and a select group of photographers over the years, myself included, for a multitude of reasons.
Newton had a unique vision that made his photographic style unmistakably identifiable in every image he captured, as his work tended to be more subjective. His manipulation of light and shadow resulted in raw, impactful images with profound substance. Dissimilar to Avedon’s work, lighting played a pivotal role in the success of Newton’s images. However, his signature style diverged by incorporating deep shadows and, in certain instances, blown-out highlights, creating a striking contrast that made his work leap off the pages of the publications he collaborated with.
Newton seamlessly integrated his personal views and love of women, his demeanor, and his lifestyle into his photographic works. He had a distinctive practice of never photographing his subjects and models beyond a three-mile radius of his residences in Europe and the United States. He masterfully used the backdrops of his immediate surroundings. Likewise, unlike Avedon, he skillfully crafted themes that made use of these locales in contrast to the static environment of a studio and meticulously controlled lighting, even shooting in direct sunlight. “There are two types of people that shoot in the middle of the day, fools and Helmut Newton.” – Unknown.
Individuals discerning the differences between the two will promptly recognize the specific hard shadows and highlights synonymous with Newton’s style—sharp, crisp, and high in contrast, not aligning with what society typically defines as desirable today.
| THE TAKEAWAY
I spent years trying to conform to industry standards to impress potential clients, losing sight of my vision. I grappled with the idea of doing things ‘right’ according to the established rules of photography. I questioned whether I should adhere to established photography norms or pursue my unique vision. Eventually, I realized I disliked the prevalent trend of heavily edited, gloomy images saturated with limited colors, mostly gold and blue, often with uninteresting, people, compositions, and themes. I not only disliked it, I find it ridiculous and damn near offensive, which prompted me to start shooting in monochrome to distance myself from that particular brand of fucking-dumb.
This realization prompted a shift, abandoning the inherently dull for something fresh. Helmut Newton’s bold use of subjects, lighting, topics, tones, and textures sparked a personal transformation. While I admire Richard Avedon’s work, his influence still holds a significant place in photography—an influence I aim to completely leave behind- not because it’s ugly, but because it’s normal and boring. His work is what everyone expects to see.
I recently had a conversation with my friend Erin about contemporary photography. During our talk, she likened my stance to that of a revolutionary aiming to overthrow a dictatorship in southern Colombia, which I found amusing because, in a sense, she’s not entirely wrong. I used to be determined to explain my style and perspective to potential clients. However, I’ve since distanced myself from the controversy because I’m exhausted from constantly trying to educate people about my vision, and technical and creative differences.
More importantly, I’ve realized that it’s not my responsibility to educate everyone. I had to explore and understand these differences and philosophies on my own, and I believe others should do the same. Actively observing, and employing the imagination, is crucial in any creative pursuit. It allows you to better comprehend and express your truths, whatever they may be.
With any luck, this sudo-article will help alleviate the pressure to imitate what’s already been created for the sake of recognition in your pursuits. Instead, I urge you to chart your unique path, expand your creativity, and refine your skills authentically. That goes for anything you do. If this means being innovative, don’t shy away from that goal. As Erin said, “Be a revolutionary.” Stop critiquing yourself and comparing your vision to the previous works of others, and you’ll find joy in your journey, regardless of the outcome. Allow the mediocre to navigate on their own without interference. If people insist on being cliff-jumpy like lemmings, who are we to spoil their fun?