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Posted on June 8th, 2012, by

The development of art in the 20th century was characterized by the diversity of genres and styles which grew rapidly. At the same time, it is necessary to point out that one of the major trends of the art of the 20th century was experimenting which actually led to the appearance of new genres and forms. This was particularly obvious in photography and painting. It is worthy of mention that despite all experiments such movement as realism, for instance, remained quite popular and affected works of many artists, among which may be named Wayne Thiebaud and Helmut Newton. These artists may be viewed as working in the similar directions and being influenced by similar trends. Nevertheless, it is necessary to underline that Wayne Thiebaud was much more moderate in his creative work than Helmut Newton whose works were often perceived as shocking for the wide public.

Wayne Thiebaud as a predecessor of photorealism

Wayne Thiebaud is one of the most outstanding artists of the 20th century. Speaking about his artistic work, it is necessary to point out that he is traditionally associated with the pop art movement because of his profound interest to objects of mass culture. Due to his true to life representations, Wayne Thiebaud was perceived as a predecessor of photorealism.

It should be said that this artist became particularly popular in 1960s. Basically, he used heavy pigments and exaggerated colours to depict his subjects, and the well-defined shadow characteristics of his works were almost always included. In this respect, it is worthy to refer to his Dispensers, pl.8 (1964) (Image 1). The objects depicted by the artists are simplified into basic units but appear varied using seemingly minimal means. In all probability, Wayne Thiebaud was influenced by other artists as well as by his epoch when material values had become of the utmost importance and realism grew popular in art.

In fact, Thiebaud is best known for his paintings of production line objects found in diners and cafeterias, such as pies and pastries. Among these works may be named Lunch (1967) (Image 2), Three Machines (1964), (Image 3), Gum Machine (1964), and others. It is worthy of mention that these works could be influenced by Thiebaud’s past experience as, being a young man, he worked in Long Beach at a café named Mile High and Hot Rod.

In addition to pastires and pies, Thiebaud painted landscapes, streetscapes, and popular characters such as Miki Mouse (Image 5). Many of his paintings created in 1960s are characterized by high level of realism. In this respect, it is worthy to dwell upon his Toy Mickey (1963) (Image 5) as one of the most typical works of the artist in 1960s. In fact, such paintings are typical for his work and reflect his past as a cartoonist. At first glance, the painting evokes quite positive feelings and emotions as it realistically depicts a smiling Mickey Mouse who simply radiates joy and, in all probability, the artist targeted at the child audience while he was creating this work. In fact, the painting seems to be intentionally simple or it is even possible to say that it is plain, as it just depicts Mickey Mouse on the yellow-brown background. He is smiling and looking directly in front of him. The painter posed him a bit turned to the right so that it is possible to see his profile and shadow on the floor. He shoved his hands into his pockets and looks joyfully at something that is hidden from the viewer. He wears extremely large shoes that seem to never fit him but it does not make any difference for Mickey. It is worthy of noting that the painting is quite realistic and even the shadow seems to be carefully depicted by the artist. Basically, the painting is proportional, the lines are precise and clear. Mickey, being executed in dark colours, is depicted in the centre of the painting with his shadow on his right.

In general, the dark figure of Mickey is sharply distinguished on the light background.

In actuality, this painting seems to be quite simple and realistic because it depicts Mickey Mouse as a joyful and careless character which was extremely popular among children at that epoch. On the other hand, it is worthy of mention that the posture and gestures of Mickey emphasize that he has something to hide, some feelings and emotions that remain unclear to viewers.

The realism of Wayne Thiebaud may be clearly observed in other works created in 1960s, such as Bowls (1960) and Nickel Machine (1964) (Images 6 and 7). In such a way, it is possible to estimate that Wayne Thiebaud attempted to depict real things, which people met in their everyday life regularly, in their original form conveying them realistically.

Helmut Newton as an adept of extreme realism

Helmut Newton continued this trend to realism, but unlike Wayne Thiebaud, his realism is provocative, it is exaggerated to the extent that it is quite close to naturalism. This is why his works were not always adequately perceived by the audience and were often severely criticized, especially by conservative art of critics and audience.

On the other hand, it is necessary to underline that Newton’s works were products of his epoch and resulted from the progressing sexual revolution and changing morality. It is even possible to estimate that Newton’s works created in late 1970s early 1980s, just the next decade after Thiebaud’s first successful works, were revolutionary for his time.

As it has already been said above, Helmut Newton’s works were highly controversial. Basically, controversies of his works are explained by their revolutionary character since his original style was quite different from canons of photography that existed in his epoch. In a way, it is possible to estimate that Helmut Newton was a photographer whose style, ideas and performance was not fully understood in his time, notably in the mid-20th century and 1970s but nowadays his works are perceived more objectively.

On analyzing the controversies that may be found in his works, it should be primarily pointed out that traditionally fashion photography creates an image of society and the role that women in it. In this respect, Helmut Newton works are particularly important since he perfectly felt the profound social and cultural changes that took place in the society and reflected them in his work. Naturally, the audience could not fully understand his insight view on the most significant trends that took place in social and cultural life because it is only gifted individuals that can do it.

It should be said that often Helmut Newton remained misunderstood by his contemporaries especially in 1970s-1980s. Feminists were probably the strongest opposition to his works since the image of a woman depicted by the photographer is really controversial. On the one hand, his photos tended to incorporate erotic elements which often were quite explicit combined with violent and provocative elements. As a result, his works were perceived as the works which exacerbated the difference between the sexes to such an extent that feminists accused him in misogyny and made a united stand against him. On the other hand, this was rather a simplistic view on his creative work and in order to better understand his ideas and intentions, it is necessary to analyze the other side of the medal.

It is really true that Helmut Newton’s works are aggressive, erotic and provocative and exactly in such a way solely were they perceived in the epoch of their creation. In this respect it is possible to refer to his works such as Vogue Studio, Paris Self-Portrait with Alexandra (1981) and Saddle 1 Paris (1976) (Images 8 and 9). Nowadays, it is possible to view them in a different way that makes his creative work extremely controversial. To put it more precisely, in response to the irritation of feminists with his works, it is possible to estimate that Helmut Newton just attempted to reflect the sexual revolution and forecast its consequences in relation to women. From such a viewpoint, the women of Helmut Newton’s world are women who know and get what they want.

In fact, they totally change the existing stereotype. For instance, often he was accused by his critics, especially from the part of feminists, of conceiving and producing photographs of that are pornographic, that reduce women to sexually attractive bodies (Steele 1999). However, in actuality, his works were not about objectifying his typically female subjects by presenting them in a sexualized manner but rather that he was attempting to contest or at least unsettle the dominant structures of the gaze or the visual pleasure. In such a way, in response to criticism from the part of feminist partially justified, it is possible to fid a counterargument, notably that Newton’s women are far removed from weak, compliant, sex-object dominated by the misogynist macho. Actually, this is the reason why his work had been found so shocking, for his staged photos thematize the discovery of this new kind of freedom and the fantasies that this freedom engenders.

In such a way, it is possible to estimate that Helmut Newton went further in his works compared to Wayne Thiebaud and his realism seems to be much more exaggerated than that of Thiebaud. What is more, he fully uncovers realism of photography and, instead of soulless subjects, he uses humans to bring in more vividness to his works that actually affects viewers’ perception dramatically, especially in the late 1970-1980s when really the mass audience hardly shared his views.

Furthermore, many argued that Helmut Newton’s works violate the norms of Christian morality that is actually true.

However, it is possible to argue that it is not his fault and it was not him who changed the epoch but the epoch that changed the whole world, while he, in person, just reflected these changes in his photos. To put it more precisely, it should be said that the sexual revolution and other substantial social and cultural changes practically led to the decline of traditional Christian morality. Instead freedom in all aspects of life became the dominant moral principle.

In fact, Christian morality had collapsed and Helmut Newton just forecasted the upcoming new epoch of new morality.

Also, it is possible to briefly dwell upon the genres he worked in, which are also quite controversial. Even though Helmut Newton himself divided all his works in three main categories – fashion, nude, and portraits he often mixed these genres so that a fashion photo could be nude, and vice versa, and a nude photo could also be a portrait.

This is the characteristic of his work that can hardly be found in Thiebaud’s clearly defined style and distinguishable genres.

In fact, the artist’s realism had surpassed the realism of Thiebaud and went so far that often Helmut Newton was accused of making female pornography instead of photographing females nude. This is why it is necessary to clearly distinguish these two categories and it is equally important to underline that regardless numerous accusation Helmut Newton’s works are anything but photographing females nude.

First of all, it should be said that female pornography is an extremely simplistic if not to say primitive view on females. Even though it basically implies nudity that may be amply observed in Newton’s works, but it also transforms females into a kind of objects, emphasizing only the sexual attractiveness of their bodies. On analyzing Newton’s works, it is getting to be obvious that the photographer did not attempt to annihilate females to the role of subjects depicted in a sexualized manner that would be pornographic. Instead, he attempts to have a more profound look on the female body as a form of art and his main goal is not just depict a nude body but to evoke some profound emotions by means of the visual pleasure his works can provide for the audience.

Finally, it should be said that his photos simply change the role of women that is not typical for pornography, which in contrast sticks to the depiction of women in a traditional dominated manner, while Helmut Newton, as it has been mentioned above, reveals them as free and new women of the new epoch. In this respect, aggressiveness and provocative character of his photos only make this impression stronger.


Thus, taking into account all above mentioned, it is possible to conclude that the development of art, at large, and graphic design, in particular, in the 20th century was characterized by the development of various trends among which the trend to realistic depiction of the surrounding world remained quite strong. At the same time, the dramatic socio-cultural changes that had occurred in the world during 1960-1970s marked a dramatic shift in the development of graphic design as well as art. The works of the two artists discussed above perfectly illustrate the extent to which art had changed and, what is even more important, it reflected socio-cultural change. This is why, instead of pure realism of Thiebaud, the shocking realism of Newton grew more and more popular and marked the formation of photorealism as a really significant movement of the 20th century art and graphic design, which rots may be traced in the works of Thiebauld but which became particularly obvious in the works of Newton.

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