Berlin, Berlin. 20 years of the Helmut Newton Foundation

through 16 February 2025 // Helmut Newton Foundation, Berlin

The Helmut Newton Foundation celebrates its 20th anniversary in June 2024 with the group show “Berlin, Berlin”. This exhibition also celebrates the city where Newton was born. In the fall of 2003, Helmut Newton established his foundation in Berlin to house parts of his archive, which opened to the public in June 2004 at the historic Landwehrkasino next to Zoologischer Garten station. It was from this very station that Helmut Neustädter, facing constant threat of deportation as a Jew, fled Berlin in early December 1938 – returning 65 years later as the world-famous photographer Helmut Newton. Since then, the Helmut Newton Foundation and the Berlin Art Library have jointly resided in the historic building now known as the Museum of Photography. After the death of June Newton (also known as Alice Springs) in April 2021, the entire collection of works by Helmut Newton and Alice Springs, along with all archival materials, have been housed in the foundation’s archive.

Helmut Newton trained under the legendary photographer Yva in Berlin-Charlottenburg from 1936 to 1938, eventually carving his path in the three genres of fashion, portraits, and nudes, following in her footsteps. After stints in Singapore and Melbourne, Newton’s career took off in Paris in the early 1960s, a period during which he frequently returned to Berlin for fashion shoots in magazines like Constanze, Adam, and Vogue Europe. In this exhibition, we encounter Newton’s models posing at Brandenburg Gate, even before the construction of the Berlin Wall. In 1963, he produced Mata Hari Spy Story, a fashion series featuring Brigitte Schilling that focused on the Berlin Wall, causing quite a stir. In 1979, the newly relaunched German Vogue commissioned Newton to revisit his childhood and youth in West Berlin, visualizing current fashion trends. The result was a multi-page portfolio titled Berlin, Berlin! that inspired the name of this anniversary exhibition. Later works included cover stories for Zeit magazine (1990), Männer Vogue (1991) and the Süddeutsche Zeitung magazine (2001).

The other exhibition rooms recontextualize Newton’s iconic and lesser-known images of Berlin from the 1930s to the 2000s. From vintage prints by Yva to Barbara Klemm’s political photojournalism, these images span the Golden Twenties into which Newton was born, the devastation of war, reconstruction, the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall, and the early 21st century.

Yevgeny Chaldei, a Russian-Ukrainian photographer, captured iconic images capturing the ground battle around the Reichstag in the final weeks of World War II in the spring of 1945. Meanwhile, Hein Gorny flew over the city the following autumn alongside Adolph C. Byers, documenting Berlin’s ruinous state after the war’s end through striking aerial photographs. In the late 1950s, the precarious situation in the city slowly stabilized, reflected in the works of photographers like Arno Fischer, Will McBride, and F.C. Gundlach, who could still move between the eastern and western parts of the city. However, the construction of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 drastically altered the city’s dynamics once again. 1966 saw the emergence of the student protest movement in West Berlin, documented by photographers like Günter Zint. Meanwhile, an archival work by Arwed Messmer creatively reinterprets historical photographs compiled by the West Berlin police during this same politically charged period.

The Berlin Wall emerges as a recurring motif throughout the exhibition. Twelve folios of found photographs by East German border guards, curated and annotated by Arwed Messmer and Annett Gröschner, offer a detailed look at the Wall in the mid-1960s. The Wall resurfaces in other images as well, reflecting the divided city beyond famous sites like the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, collectively capturing the mythos of Berlin and its representation. The exhibition fosters an engaging dialogue between pivotal projects that have shaped photographic and film history: Maria Sewcz’s series inter esse is juxtaposed with Michael Schmidt’s Waffenruhe and film stills from Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire. Notably, these works all originate from the late 1980s, predating the fall of the Berlin Wall. The exhibition’s final chapter revolves around the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification, featuring photographs capturing these events and their aftermath. This period is represented by Ulrich Wüst’s Leporellos capturing a city in transition, as well as large-format color photographs by Thomas Florschuetz and Harf Zimmermann depicting iconic central Berlin landmarks. The latter include interiors of the former Palace of the Republic and intriguing new perspectives of the Berlin TV Tower on Alexanderplatz and the Friedrichwerdersche Kirche by Karl Friedrich Schinkel. They are visual testaments to a city fated “to always become and never be” (Karl Scheffler).

Newton’s perspective of his hometown, presented through approximately 100 photographs, is complemented, commented on, and reflected by an equally extensive array of images and approaches from fellow photographers and filmmakers throughout the decades in the adjoining rooms. This juxtaposition, fostering reciprocal references, echoes the approach adopted by the Helmut Newton Foundation for the 2022 group show Hollywood – another iconic location of significance to Newton’s visual oeuvre.

View available press images: Press image list (PDF)