At the beginning of the eighties and as if it were a theater director, Helmut Newton began photographing the components of the Monte Carlo Ballet. Dubious at first, given the development of what was commissioned by Princess Carolina of Monaco, this teacher of photography and provocation, who at that time already held the title of King of Vice and Prince of Porn, I would start photographing the dancers away from the stage. The project lasted more than a decade. At that time, the dancers went from being portrayed in the privacy of the rehearsal rooms to posing on the streets of Monte Carlo, until they ended up naked on the steps of the casino’s fire escape, strengthening their balance in their inseparable pointe shoes. The development of the series would serve the artist to reinterpret the constitutive idea that would come to define his work throughout half a century; the hidden and the revealed, the dressed and the naked, making reference to the relationship between exhibitionism and voyeurism. “If a photographer says it is not a voyeur she is an idiot ”, the artist would say.
The series was originally intended to illustrate the dance company’s promotional brochures and catalogs. Finally, there were only a few published images, and the author would make use of some enlargements in various exhibitions, but generally it is a little-known series. As a whole, it forms the nucleus of the last collective exhibition organized at the Helmut Newton Foundation, which under the title of Body Performance brings together the work of 13 photographers whose origin is in the art of performance, dance and other staged events, and whose common focus is on the potential of the human body as a source of expressiveness. “The performance It is an independent artistic medium, and photography has been its constant companion ”, says Matthias Harder, director of the Foundation and curator of the exhibition. “The close connection between photography, performance, the happenings and the art of action has been around for many decades, from the time of the Dadaists and Surrealists to Viennese actionism and to the installations of human nudes carried out in public spaces by Spencer Tunick ”.
Body language underlies the work of Inez & Vinoodh. This artistic duo that since its inception has been “irritating” the fashion world with its surreal images, as presented in the text accompanying the exhibition. Long before the appearance of Photoshop, the couple of artists had already begun to modify reality using Paint Box – the first computer animation system -, turning the forms of representation practiced in editorial and advertising photography. Thus, her work opens the exhibition with images belonging to the series The Forest. Made in the nineties, it confronts us with a society where the body is in danger of losing its natural quality through the anonymous portraits of men with the hands of women, who adopt those postures in which we are accustomed to seeing the female sex represented. . Similarly it takes us away from the canon Lisa Lyon (1980), the portrait of the first woman to win a bodybuilding championship by Robert Mapplethorpe. The softness of her skin contrasts with the texture of the rock on which the athlete lies, while her muscular strength is equated with the resistance of the stone. The border between feminine and masculine is blurred in Long live Spain (1976/79). It is a series made in real size by Jürgen Klauke in which a man and a woman perform a mysterious and sensual dance on a dark stage. By observing the sequence of images, the viewer has the sensation of capturing movement, while the bodies merge with each other.
The Italian Vanessa Beercroft has become famous by portraying performances organized in public spaces or in galleries and museums. During the long actions, the protagonists hardly move while the photographer documents her minimalist choreography. Thus, the performance and the image acquire the same status in the resulting work. In VB55 the artist recovered the visual concept pursued by Newton of the visible and the hidden (a concept that the German artist incorporated into fashion when publishing his mythical photography Sie Kommen (1981) in the magazine Vogue French, where he contrasted the images of four models walking dressed to another in which they appear naked). During the event, the visitors were part of a large scenery made up of one hundred women dressed only in transparent stockings. While the photographer captured everything that happened with her camera, also documenting the observation of the performance by visitors; that is, the perception of what is perceived.
For the elaboration of One Minute Sculptures, Erwin Blum asked the participants to pose in front of their camera interacting with different everyday objects; glasses, balls or cauldrons with which the protagonists would juggle all kinds following the artist’s instructions. Comic and absurd positions at first sight that offer an exploration on the parameters of the act of elaborating an image. Inspired by the movie The american soldier, by Fassbinder, specifically by the movements of a man who has just been shot, Robert Longo would make one of his best-known series, Men in the Cities. (nineteen eighty one). So he asked his friends to try to emulate these unnatural gestures, which evoke both death and dance, throwing things at them to provoke their mobility. The series was executed while the author shared a flat with his friend Cindy Sherman, who is also present in the exhibition with his characterizations of characters immersed in scenes without significance of day to day, deliberately staged. Catapulted to fame for her series Untitled Film Stills, shares with Newton his fascination with the undisclosed. In this way, his photographs acquire the character of a static film summarized in a single image. Film noir permeates the melancholic and enigmatic nudes of Yang Fudong, where time seems to have stopped.
Viviane Sassen’s distinctive style does not go unnoticed. The renowned Dutch artist has managed to inject new life into fashion photography. As with Newton, fashion is just the vehicle for shaping your ideas. The human body becomes her main motive, through which she has developed her personal language. A universe of surreal shades made up of interlocking bodies, sculptural compositions and abstract forms that is contrasted in the exhibition of the work of another artist: the German Barbara Probst. This dissects reality by photographing the same situation with different cameras, located at different angles, through a radio-controlled system. Different perspectives that enclose the same moment, all of them as real as insufficient, presented in black and white and in color. We also find the work done by Bernd Uhlig following the choreographies of Sasha Waltz.
“As we look at the works,” says the curator, “questions arise about our perception, that of others, about identity and the collective and about emotion.”
Body Performance. Helmut Newton Foundation. Berlin Until September 20.