I bought Helmut Newton Polaroids in July 2013 directly out of the Taschen flagship store in Amsterdam. It’s a stunner of a book especially if Newton is a favourite (he is mine).
The book is simply comprised of a collection of his polaroid outtakes from shoots, they are his light tests basically, and worked as a guide before each of his shoots actually begun.
I love the gritty working element of the shots since they are so blown up here, also the fold marks and notes which appear on many on the shots.
Taschen’s preface says:
A Collection of Helmut Newton’s test Polaroids. Polaroids occupy a special place in the hearts of many photos enthusiasts who remember a time when “instant photography” meant one-of-a-kind prints that developed within minutes of clicking the shutter. What was once a crucial tool for photographers to test their shots before shooting on film has now become obsolete in the face of digital photography. Luckily for us, legendary photographer Helmut Newton saved his test Polaroids, allowing a privileged and rare chance to see the tests from a selection of his greatest shoots over a period of decades, including many from the Taschen titles SUMO, A Gun for Hire. Put together by his widow, June Newton, his collection captures the magic of Helmut Newton photo shoots as only polaroids can.
And June continues with her own preface to the book:
Helmut has already written ably the importance of Polaroids for his work. But this exhibition proves that they were not always necessary as often one can’t tell the difference between the Polaroid and the actual photograph. I used many of them as place cards for dinner parties. Some were sold to people who saw the value of them, some ended up in auctions. Many are still out there. So this is the reason I’ve exhibited them; for they have a life of their own. They always did but they were meant as guides for him before the actual shoot took place.He never used a motor drive. Chance was taken when an unexpected element presented itself. Otherwise, he went out on every job, PREPARED.
But he loved the little Polaroid camera. It told him what he wanted to know and it allowed him to correct whatever had to be corrected before he used whatever camera he was using.
On real film, his average was three rolls, one or two for him, the third in case something went wrong in the lab for one or two.
He often brought home the day’s work of Polaroids to me, threw them down and said. “What do you think?” As I have written, he was like Othello coming home with the spoils of war from the wars to his Desdemona.
I decided to enlarge the Polaroids, because, as the wolf said to Red Riding Hood, ” all the better to see you with my dear.”
And Matthias Harder, chief curator at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin, wrote about Helmut Newtons use of polaroids too:
Spontaneous and speedy
…Helmut Newton used the technology intensively starting in the 1970’s, especially for his fashion photo shoots. As he once described in an interview, this satisfied his impatient urge to want to know immediately how a certain situation would look as a photograph. In this context, the Polaroid acted as an idea sketch in addition to testing the actual lighting situation and image composition. In 1992 Newton published Pola Woman, an unconventional book consisting only of his Polaroids. According to the photographer, the publication lay particularly close to his heart, although it was discussed amidst great controversy. I response to the accusation that the image sin the book were not perfect enough, he countered: “But that was exactly what was exciting- the spontaneity, the speed.”
Newtons additional notes, written on the edges of the polaroids, are fascinating as well as revealing with regards to the model, client or location and date. The comments, the haziness of the images and the signs of use are naturally also to be found on the enlargements of the Polaroids included in the exhibition; they testify to a pragmatic approach to the original work materials, which now possess their own inherent value. Especially interesting for today’s viewer is the unique Polaroid aesthetic that unexpectedly alters the colours and contrast of the photographed subject. For the first time ever, over 300 works based on the original Polaroids offer a comprehensive overview of this aspect of Newton’s oeuvre. This volume is thus a look into the sketchbook of one of the most influential photographers of the 20th century. Many of the iconic photographs that have already been published before can be discovered here in the process of their creation.
PS- for best one-stop-polaroidy-type-shop in Cape town go to Exposure Gallery