On the death of June Newton – Life is black and white

For half her life she was the woman in the shadows, wife and lover at the side of a great man. When the Australian actress June Browne became Mrs. Newton in 1948, she had no idea what a deep gap she would tear through her life. It was her marriage to the photographer who fled to Melbourne from the Nazis Helmut Newton based entirely on love. Nevertheless, the roles in this relationship were clearly assigned from the start: Helmut became the star photographer, June remained the woman in the background, at best a cheeky and sometimes cheeky muse at his side.

It was not until 2004, when Helmut Newton died in Los Angeles at the beginning of the year after a heart attack, that the shadow woman became something like the black and white widow. She organized exhibitions, looked after Helmut’s estate and played herself more and more into the light. The native Australian had long since led a second life. It was the life in which she was called Alice Springs, in which she was a photographer with her own language, her own standards and her own photographic ideas. She actually slipped into this role back in the 1970s. Back when she took her first own photos for an image campaign for the French cigarette manufacturer Gitanes was allowed to record.

Career in the shadows

Even that was only intended as a shadow role. Because actually it should have been Helmut’s photos. An agency had booked the fashion photographer, who had long been highly paid at the time, so that he could work on Parisian Place Vendôme was able to stage a series of pictures with a smoking model. But the star photographer had fallen ill. And instead of canceling the well paid job, he had decided on the spur of the moment to send her. He had explained the camera and the exposure meter to her and then let her represent him. When her cigarette pictures were published some time later under the name of Helmut Newton, she had known that her life had taken a decisive turn: June, the photographer’s wife, had become the photographer overnight.

At this very moment, however, she must have realized that there could only be one “real Newton” in the world. Her husband’s extraordinary iconographic expressiveness could not be achieved through a small jumper job. June therefore adopted a sonorous pseudonym for her forays into photography: Alice Springs – a name she borrowed from a small town somewhere in the Australian outback.

First successes as a photographer

But under this label, the autodidact managed to create larger fashion series and some remarkable advertising images in the years that followed. In the seventies she photographed for Cubit and for Marie Claire also for Egoist and Jean-Louis David. Short making-ofs for her husband’s fashion shoots were soon to be seen in relevant magazines. And in 1974 she even managed to get a photo on the cover of the French for the first time Cubit to place.

Admittedly, the vast majority of these fashion images did not come close to the voyeuristic and sometimes openly pornographic aesthetics of the fashion photography that was popular at the time – to the visual worlds of one Guy Bourdin, Jeanloup Sieff or a Helmut Newton – but they still convince with open eros and relaxed lightness. Even husband Helmut was not unimpressed by this – even if he later gave his wife a rather restrained testimony: “As a photographer,” the master confided in his autobiography, published in 2002, “she never had the same energy and determination as an actress.”

Two souls in one breast

Somehow he was right: June Newton remained a stage performer at heart. But that didn’t have to be considered a flaw per se. On the contrary: Alice Springs developed her true talent when it came to roles and masquerades: from the mid-seventies she became a sought-after photographer for portraits and character pictures. On behalf of well-known magazines – but often only for domestic use – she photographed actors and fashion designers, staged writers and filmmakers, and formed images for painters and musicians. It will be these black and white hip pictures and half-figures that will remain of her: the likeness of punk grandma Vivian Westwood, Yves Saint Laurent as an unapproachable style icon, images of the familiarity and closeness to a scene that had shaped the look of the western world at the time .

It seemed to June Newton that such recordings were not just about the representation of grand gestures. She had a feeling for the interplay between a lived role and her own personality. To this day, it is difficult to pinpoint where the public person ended in her photos and where the real person began. Perhaps this vagueness is due to one’s own identity cleavage; the story of a woman who had two names for four decades – her name was June Newton and who was still Alice Springs. Yesterday it became known that June Newton died last Friday at the age of 97 in Monte Carlo.

Janelle B. Smith

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