voncontextishalfthework 27.06.2017

Context is Half the Work

Seeing comes before words, and culture can be defined at any given moment.

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by Carly Eden

Currently on view at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin are two simultaneous exhibitions from Mario Testino and Jean Pigozzi, as well as your usual dose of pure Helmut Newton, with selections from the foundation’s collection at your grasp. While specific exhibitions deal with different subjects and feeling, all capture and feature common themes of intimate encounters. The three shows tie perfectly together and transport you to another place. While walking around the second floor of the Helmut Newton Foundation, the work of Testino, Newton and Pigozzi allow you to see something extraordinary, a glimpse into their world of wine, women, nudity, and creative expression.


Mario Testino, Undressed

The exhibition Undressed is truly unique from other typical photography exhibitions; with large-scale works expanding beyond frame-able size, Testino’s images wrap around the room and cover every centimeter of wall space like wallpaper. The models of his images bear it all by not wearing much, caught and exposed in shocking poses on film. Testino’s lens is like a hotel room key that gives you exclusive access to the tattoos, tan lines, curves and other secrets that span across entire walls—the show is big and bold and fills your field of vision, charging your emotions to bring you into these captured intimate moments.


Mario Testino. Vogue Paris, Paris 2001, copyright Mario Testino


Mario Testino believes that stripping down allows people to show their true colors. Testino strives to capture extremely close moments, working for it by what he calls the ‘correct way’: pushing intimacy without going too far, in order to profit off of the models’ moments of strength rather than weakness. Intimate moments are strategically shot; and to capture the subject’s inner-self, it’s important to Testino to ensure that the person on the other end of the camera is comfortable. To eliminate the model’s insecurity he acts silly, wild and unreserved; his goal is to take the attention off of the nakedness and place it onto himself.

Testino accounts for every single detail of the photo, including the fingernails, which he finds as vital to the image’s final outcome, as fingernails can tell a lot about a woman– whether they are short, long, shiny, matte, light or dark, they aid in telling the story.

The photos are clean and sharp; their common theme of little or no clothing questions how one should look at the human body. They are an admiration of the body’s form, capturing it in flattering and innovative ways by expertly choosing shots and angles in which the model is in the most interesting and seemingly natural poses on their hands and knees, in bed, and up walls with their bodies wrapped around others.


Mario Testino. James Gooding + Donovan Leitch, Los Angeles, c. 1999, copyright Mario Testino


Testino sees the body as something that we shouldn’t be afraid of. He is amazed by the ‘lucky people’ who were born with perfect bodies, and believes that if nudity was more accepted by our society, and not seen as something crude, everyone would have more confidence of his or her own body. When does nudity go too far? He believes that these rules on what can and cannot be shown that are set in place are unnecessary, as we all have a body and we all have the same parts. Testino has found in his past magazine work that the female nude body can be in a fashion spread with no question, but if male frontal nudity is shown, it is outrageous. Testino works to push past these limits, and does so in the new exhibition.


Jean Pigozzi, Pool Party

Entering the room of the exhibition, your first peek does not have much color. The walls are a dark charcoal grey and the photos are printed in black and white. Rather than there being color on the surface of the photos, one could find ‘color’, intrigue and electricity in the guests’ expressions. You can notice the sparkle in their eye and a true smile on their face as main source of life and energy in the photos. The shots are taken poolside in the sunlight, or just under the water. With drinks in their hands and relaxed bodies, the party guests remind us of summer’s freedom and flirtation. None of these shots are posed, capturing a true sense of authenticity.


Jean Pigozzi. Naomi Campbell w/ Mick + Bono (the dogs), Antibesm 1993 copyright Jean Pigozzi


Pigozzi’s work turns away from classic photo shoots and moves to his backyard pool. Pool Party is a collection of over one hundred photos from his personal collection. Initially these party records may appear to be of typical social gatherings, but most of the faces are familiar. The series features a-list celebrities including Bono, Mick Jagger, Elizabeth Taylor, Michael Douglas, and Woody Allen, only to name a few. You can see them socializing, riding inflatable pool toys in the water, and lying out on the stone deck as Elle McPherson says hello to a greyhound and U2 has a beer. The photos were taken at his villa in the south of France spanning from the 1950’s to today, yet they seem to stay at a constant, with a timeless feel.

Pigozzi expresses his love for photography through the excitement it brings him. He takes photos everyday, as he explains it is his passion. While comparing his start to today, he is relieved that he no longer has to waste film when he plays with his camera in his daily life. Technology has changed his craft, as it is now much easier to see, edit and scrap photos on a screen rather than in a darkroom. Although he is accustomed to the new digital life of photography, he also still appreciates the novelty of a real, tangible paper book. He jokingly claims to have invented the selfie.


Jean Pigozzi. Self Portrait, Cap d’Antibes, 1988, copyright Jean Pigozzi


Pigozzi gives us a glimpse into who he is as an artist, as well as who he is as a person. He thinks that lobster is “just expensive chewing gum”, and takes photographs because on top of dyslexia, he has messy handwriting and cannot write notes to himself. He does not drink alcohol, but people have told him that rosé puts people in a good mood, so he serves it to his guests and plays French reggae music to get them feeling more comfortable. One can see that his whimsical images come from the heart, as he has many sides to himself, including a very humorous and insightful personality.


Helmut Newton. Heather looking through a keyhole, Paris 1994, copyright Helmut Newton Estate


Helmut Newton, Unseen

Intertwining between and connecting the two show is the Helmut Newton Foundation’s usual dose of selections of its namesake to highlight the other two shows. Newton’s work is just as electrifying as ever, featuring both models and celebrities in playful shots. There are women frolicking in a vineyard, a women giving herself to a man on a screen, strongly posed women in fancy corridors, and a body covered in paint, being power washed – all nude or wearing barely anything. One can see that Newton played with the idea of ‚nakedness‚ as Testino does today.




Mario Testino – Undressed
Helmut Newton – Unseen
Jean Pigozzi – Pool Party

Helmut Newton Foundation / Jebenstrasse 2 / 10623 Berlin / Tu, We, Fr, Sa, Su 11 – 19 / Th 11 – 20

Entrance 10 € / 5 €

Guided Tours: Sundays 16 h


Images: Courtesy + Copyright of The Helmut Newton Foundation, Mario Testino, and Jean Pigozzi





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