Issues for consideration

  • View the exhibition The fashion of Helmut Newton and Bettina Rheims. Look closely at the work by each artist, and identify themes and subject matter. Consider the exhibition as a whole. Notice size, subject, colour and tone, and the relationships between the different images. What principles have been employed in the selection and arrangement of the works? Discuss why these two artists have been paired in this exhibition.
  • Choose one photograph from a body of work by Newton for close analysis. Think about subject, colour, lighting and composition. List words to express the mood and your own response to the image. Do you find it unsettling or intriguing, challenging or appealing? Use the findings from your analytical reading to account for your response.
  • Observe the use of theatrical devices in Newton’s work. List ways in which he suggests a sense of mood and story. Describe the position of the viewer. Create your own photographic tableau with a narrative dimension. Think about character, costume, setting and lighting.
  • Examine the origins and development of fashion photography. Research the relationship between the development of fashion photography and the rise of mass media and consumer culture in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Investigate the role played by the carte-de-visite since the 1860s in popularising images of celebrity, glamour and style. Chart the rise of magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, their role as arbiters of style and taste and their importance in the careers of fashion photographers such as Baron Adolphe de Meyer, Cecil Beaton and Newton.
  • Investigate Newton’s and Rheims’ influence on fashion photography. With your class, make a survey of fashion photography over the past four decades. Select key images to create a visual timeline to display on the classroom wall. Study the results and classify and discuss trends and themes. Can you find any signs of Newton’s or Rheims’ influence? Consider, in particular, the construction of gender identity and the use of mood and story.
  • Make a case study of Rheims’ series Modern Lovers 1990. Study images from the series in this exhibition and assess your response to them as a group. Locate other images from this series from other sources and identify recurring themes and subjects. How do they challenge conventional representations of women and men?
  • Read the following statement by Rheims and think about what it may tell us about her relationship with her subjects. What might she mean by ‘pinning butterflies to a board’? Speculate on how this statement may reflect on the nature of photography as a medium. Think about process and materials and use evidence from the images to support your answer.

There was a fleeting moment when they appeared to become man and woman. Before this image disappeared, there was just enough time to release the shutter… I had the feeling that I was pinning butterflies to a board. It was as though I had enticed them into a trap. I took them way beyond the image they had of themselves. In some ways, I made them complete.

Bettina Rheims, Introduction to ‘Modern Lovers’, July 1990, translated by Susan Schmocker, May 1997