Paola’s Nudes: an homage to Helmut Newton at Nitroglobus

Nitroglobus Gallery: Nudes by Paola Mills

Now open through April and into May at Nitroglobus Roof Gallery, curated by Dido Haas, is Nudes, a themed series of images by Paola Mills, which stands as something of an homage to the late German-Australian photographer Helmut Newton.

For those unfamiliar with Newton, who is perhaps best remembered for his work from the 1970s through mid-1990s, I’ll let Brooke McCord provide an introduction:

Nobody has made quite the lasting impression on fashion imagery as Helmut Newton. Hired by French Vogue in the 1950s before being propelled to fame in the 1970s, Newton came to be renowned for his controversial scenarios, hypersexualised imagery and striking compositions. With elements of his work that linked to the themes of surrealism – an art movement dominant during his youth spent growing up in Berlin – Newton’s unadulterated love of beautiful and strong women saw him create images laden with heavy overtones of voyeurism, sadomasochism and fetishism.

Brooke McCord, Your ultimate guide to Helmut Newton, Dazed, 2016

Nitroglobus Gallery: Paola Mills

In particular, Newton is p[erhaps best known for two classical collections of photography, White Women (1976) and Big Nudes (1981), which together with 1978’s Sleepless Nights, often form a triptych of themes for retrospectives of his unique style of photography.

For Nudes, Paola states she draws inspiration from, and pays something of a tribute to, Big Nudes, although I would perhaps argue that some of the pieces here also reflect (and contrast with) Newton’s White Women as well. As noted, both have come to be regarded as classical works by Newton; White Women due to its mixture of aesthetics, technical perfection and bourgeois decadence laced with dark elegance and eerie abstract s/m trappings to present what was regarded as a pinnacle of erotic photography.

Big Nudes, however, eschewed all of the trappings found within White Women. Instead, for this series of black-and-white photos, produced between 1979 and 1981, Newton took a stylistic change, the elaborate layouts with their tones of decadence discarded in favour of a full-on unambiguously formulated approach that took pride in female nakedness, and its power therein.

Nitroglobus Gallery: Paola Mills

This latter aspect is very much in evidence within Paola’s images, which also offer a contrast to Big Nudes with their use of skin tone and backdrop; they thus present almost an inverse mirror to Newton’s originals. And like Newton’s Big Nudes, Paola’s images speak to both the vulnerability and strength of the female body. But within some of them as well are echoes of White Women: a delicate and nuanced sensuality which, when combined with camera angle and backdrop – the plainness of the latter notwithstanding – offer echo elements of Newton’s 1976 collection. Not that Paola is intending to titillate through these images, a point she makes in the notes accompanying the exhibition, after she gives credit to Newton for his work:

Much more modestly I wanted to represent the nakedness of an avatar in all its erotic charge. I don’t want to tickle the sexual instincts nor excite the minds, but only convey to my avatars the human sensitivity that guides them in the metaverse.

– Paola Mills, describing Nudes

Nitroglobus Gallery: Paola Mills

But just because there is something of a voyeuristic / erotic aspect to some, of the images in Nudes should not be seen in any way as a failure on Paola’s part to achieve her stated goal. Rather, it speaks to the success in presenting the full complexity of human sensitivity – both within the images themselves and our reaction to them.

Nudes officially opens on Sunday, March 31st, 2019 with a party at 12:00 noon SLT, and will run through the month and into May. However, those wishing to see the exhibition ahead of the launch can do so now.

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