If you appreciate good photography then you’ll probably already know that a visit to Berlin’s Museum of Photography should be part of your itinerary while visiting the German capital.
One museum, two organisations
The museum exhibits work by two organisations, the Helmut Newton Foundation, over the first two floors, and the Art Library’s Photographic Collection, on the second floor.
A series of Helmut Newton’s nude photographs hangs above the red carpet of the staircase behind the museum reception. Newton, one of the twentieth century’s most influential commercial and fashion photographers, was born in Berlin in 1920 as Helmut Neustaedter. His father was a Jewish factory owner and his mother an American. National Socialist persecution eventually forced the family to emigrate, in 1938. Young Helmut made his way to Singapore, from where he was eventually sent to Australia.
Helmut Newton’s early years
Even before leaving Germany, Newton had been interested in photography and served an apprenticeship under the photographer Yva (Else Simon) in Berlin’s Charlottenburg district. Having learned portraiture, fashion and nude photography skills, he found work in fashion and theatre photography in post-war Australia. In Melbourne, during 1948, he married June Browne, who became known as a photographer in her own right, under the pseudonym Alice Springs. One of the videos shown in the museum provides an insight into how the couple enriched each others’ creativity with long, late discussions, exchanging ideas for possible photographic shoots.
Despite fleeing Germany in the 1930s, Newton remained fond of Berlin. He grew up in the Schoeneberg district of the city and, later, undertook commissions for the German magazine Stern. His services to German culture were rewarded with Das Grosse Verdienstkreuz (The Grand Cross of Merit). In 2003 Newton donated a body of photography and personal items to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation. From this, the Helmut Newton Foundation was established. Newton, though, did not live long enough to see the opening, in 2004, of the permanent Helmut Newton’s Private Property exhibition.
Personal letters and artefacts
A life size cut out of Newton greets visitors to the ground floor exhibition. The exhibits include a collection of his cameras and equipment, the beach buggy-like Newton Mobile 200 vehicle and his reconstructed Monaco office. Copies of letters of condolence sent to his wife provide evidence of the high regard in which he was held by magazine editors and public figures.
Newton’s work was widely published in glossy magazines, including editions of Vogue, Elle and Paris Match, and he undertook commissions for a number of leading fashion houses. A number of his photographs, many in the form of exhibition posters, are shown on the ground floor.
You can take a seat on benches in front of monitors and watch videos of Newton at work, instructing models and assistants. You can see how he strives to ensure that the composition and lighting of his photographs is spot on.
Exhibitions on the first floor change regularly. For details of current exhibitions see the Helmut Netwon Foundation website.
The top floor of the Museum of Photography is also used to show temporary exhibitions. The Kaisersaal (Emperor’s Hall) was recently renovated, providing a pleasant, well-lit exhibition space. The photography shown ranges from retrospectives by well know photographers to works by up-and-coming talent.
Books about Newton and featuring his photography: Link to Helmut Newton publications on Amazon (£).
Berlin’s Museum of Photography is at Jebenstrasse 2, 10623 Berlin and open from 10.00am to 6.00pm from Tuesday to Sunday, with extended opening on Thursdays until 8.00pm. Adult entry costs €10 (€5 with concessions). The museum is located a couple of minutes walk from the Zoologischer Garten S-Bahn station.
For more information about the German capital, see the Visit Berlin website.
Find out more about the country as a whole on the Germany Travel website.