Remembering art director, curator, and portraitist June Newton, whose photography career began one day in 1970 when her husband Helmut fell ill with the flu and sent her in his stead.
June Newton (1923-2021), the Australian born photographer and actress also known as Alice Springs, died on Saturday, April 9, at the age of 97 in her Monte Carlo home. The wife of late photographer Helmut Newton worked with her husband on the design and publication of his many monographs, and adopted a pseudonym when photographing art, fashion, and entertainment luminaries such as Yves Saint Laurent, Audrey Hepburn, Grace Jones, and Diana Vreeland.
Born June Browne in Melbourne in 1923, Newton trained as an actor, performing under the name June Brunell. In 1947, she met Helmut Newton, the son of a wealthy German-Jewish industrialist who had fled his homeland at the age of 18 to escape the Nazis. He worked in Singapore as a high-class gigolo before being sent to Australia as an enemy alien. Helmut had became a British subject, anglicized his name, and opened a fashionable Flinders Lane photography studio in Melbourne, where he met June, who was hoping to make some extra money as a model.
"I looked at the pictures on the wall and I fell in love with them," June told The Guardian in 2006. Helmut told June, "Photography will always be my first love, but you will be my second." They wed the following year, in 1948, and remained married until Helmut’s 2004 death following a car accident in Los Angeles at the age of 83.
A Star is Born
As Helmut Newton’s reputation as a fashion photographer was on the rise, the couple moved to London in 1957 so that he could work for British Vogue while she found work at the BBC. But his aesthetic was a bit too cutting edge for the times, and it wasn’t until they moved to Paris in 1961 that his career took off.
As fate would have it, Helmut fell ill with the flu one day in 1970; it was too late to cancel an advertising shoot for Gitanes cigarettes so he asked his wife to step in. “Helmut gave me a very fast lesson—‘Use the sun over your left shoulder’ et cetera—tiny details that I still remember and have used ever since,” June told Ocean Drive magazine. “When I took that first picture and knew it was going to be published, Helmut asked me what I intended to call myself. it was apparent he didn’t want me to call myself but his name, because he thought one Newton was in the family was enough. And if I didn’t succeed…”
June took the name Alice Springs after donning a blindfold, stabbing a map of Australia with a pin, and landing upon a town of the same name in the Northern Territory. Soon enough, the calls were coming in; by 1974 June landed her first cover for ELLE magazine, and she continued photographing for glossy magazines including Vogue, Vanity Fair, and Interview — all while working as Helmut’s art director and curator. In 1978, June had her first solo exhibition in Amsterdam.
Alice Springs Eternal
“We never photographed the same subject together. We had a very different approach,” June told The Guardian. "A woman photographer can never, ever get what a man can out of a woman. I used all the acting skills I had to make people relax, dwell within themselves and just look at me."
Helmut recognized June’s innate gifts. “I can see the truth and simplicity in the portraits of Alice Springs," he wrote in the introduction to Us and Them, a collection of portraits by husband and wife that formed the basis of the opening exhibition at the Helmut Newton Foundation, which is permanently located in the Museum of Photography in Berlin.
In her career, June would photograph luminaries including William S. Burroughs, Catherine Deneuve, Graham Greene, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Mapplethorpe. "I can never photograph anybody without the regard in the eyes," she told The Guardian. "You will never see a regard in anybody's eyes in Helmut's pictures. You will only see the eyes. He wasn't interested in people. 'I'm not interested in soul,' he said. But I was, and I tried to steal them. And in many cases I did."
By Miss Rosen
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer focusing on art, photography, and culture. Her work has been published in books, magazines, and websites including Time, Vogue, Artsy, Aperture, Dazed, and Vice, among others.