Looking back on Helmut Newton’s oeuvre, you’ll likely find yourself trapped in the photographer’s glamorous universe. He often said he was “a gun for hire” at the service of fashion or product houses, but rarely only sold a product. Provocative in his time, Newton created an entire lifestyle around strong women, and meticulously transformed the mundane into the extraordinary. Foam Amsterdam has dedicated an entire exhibition to his body of work, currently presenting a retrospective. Simultaneously, three young photographers at the intersection of fashion, portraiture and glamour photography show next to Newton in PS. Glamcult caught up with all three artists to discuss their work and relation to the acclaimed photographer. First up is Philippe Vogelenzang, whose contribution complements Newton’s female nudes with pure images of a naked man.
Why do you think you were selected to show next to Newton? What do you offer in comparison or how does your work differ from his?
When I look at Helmut Newton’s work I see an admiration for the people he photographs. He loves his subject and makes this person ‘everything’. I feel the same way when photographing someone and want to show people with much strength and importance, and I want to make images you can look at forever. I sort of want you to fall in love with someone in my images because of his or her confidence, honesty or beauty—something I also feel when looking at Newton’s work. Where Newton uses his models to tell his personal stories and ideas, I’m more into exploring the identity in front of my lens, and make the image much more about whom you see and what it is that makes this person unique.
What’s the story that led you to photography, and what do you want to communicate through it?
When I thought about what I wanted to become, there was something about fashion that had my interest. Not knowing all aspects of the fashion industry yet, I thought it was all about designing clothes. I started studying at the Amsterdam Fashion Institute, but soon figured it was not the fashion itself that caught my interest; it was the way it was presented by images. I picked up a camera and started to take pictures. When the KABK in Den Haag didn’t think my portfolio was strong enough, and didn’t let me in, I very angrily and totally disappointed started a study in Art History. After two years of shooting, I tried again and got in.
After a year of studying I felt ‘school’ was not the way to learn the profession for me, and I quit. I felt I just needed to shoot. I assisted a few photographers about ten times, but this bored me and I always thought ‘I can do better’! I just felt I had to do shoots myself and learn in the field. Since then I’ve been developing, still learning things every day! I’ve had a lot of luck finding different mentors along the way that have guided me in getting better and better, teaching me more and more about myself, and about what kind of photographer I am. You can’t decide what kind of photographer you want to be, you really have to explore what kind of photographer you are, find out what you’re good at and what style suits you as a person, as photography is something very psychological and there is a lot of personal communication happening in and through images.
I’ve never been afraid to get out there with my work, at whatever moment in my career. I’ve always believed in myself; confidence as a photographer is very important. For me a shoot is always true teamwork, but you’re the one that has to bring it all together and create the images, and very important, to have a connection with your model to create that special moment. Also, as a photographer with big dreams, you really need to be a creator in general. You cannot sit back and wait for things to come your way.
I feel really close to my images. I have a lot of love for beautiful people—and I don’t mean physical beauty. I really don’t care about actual beauty. Of course physical beauty can be striking and an amazing element to work with, but the things I really love in someone are strength, personality and emotion. I love a balance in images and focus. My photographic language is very classical and I want images to feel alive. I search for strong shapes and love body language, and an attitude that really presents itself in every element of the image. Images that feel very powerful and iconic.
I like to portray and see people in a very ‘big’ and powerful way. I want to get the best out of someone in front of my lens. With fashion as a tool to reveal new, empowering or different corners of someone’s identity. Someone once told me that I’m really good at portraying someone rougher in a beautiful way, and that I can find something beautiful in anyone. That was a great compliment.
Helmut Newton is known for portraying a strong female image and changing perceptions of women. Would you say you try to do the same vis-à-vis men, especially in terms of stereotypes?
A lot of people mark me as a ‘male photographer’, but really I am not. Along the way I somehow got many more shoot opportunities with men. It’s easier to get better male than female models, and the path to female fashion is a longer and trickier one. The management behind the big girls is way tougher, and shoots are always much more controlled by the magazine or agents.
I’ve always wanted to make Big Male Nudes so when I was asked for this show I instantly wanted to do this. Especially in a show with so much female nudity, I thought this would be great. Concerning how Newton shows women and how I show Hugo, they are not alike. When shooting a person—which is always a portrait of a unique identity—I really want it to be about this person. I want it to feel almost like an introduction of who this person is. I use an element of the physical, an emotion or mood, to tell my story about and with this person.
My intension is always to make images that hit or touch the viewer in a very beautiful and intense way. Honesty is also an atmosphere I like to show people in. It’s always a very personal moment I try to create, a special one. When you shoot someone you have the chance to make a memorable and unique image with that person. When shooting I have a rough plan, but I also keep my eyes open and anticipate on things that happen.
What do you think about the changing male identity?
I love that the male identity is changing and that there is more freedom; diversity and acceptance are rising—assuming you’re referring to being transgender becoming more and more common. I don’t think in any visual restrictions when it comes to creativity and making images. I love that female and male identities are starting to cross more and more. Like I said earlier, I think confidence is very important so if you can see someone’s personal choice, that’s so powerful and beautiful to see. It inspires me a lot. It’s about time the world opens up and accepts people for who they are or want to be.