In 1980, I came across some press photos showing the offices of a special branch of the German police responsible for capturing the Bader-Meinhof terrorist group. There were life-size, full-length photographs of members of the group; some were pinned to the walls, other images were visible on computer screens. Inspired by the German Police's life-size identity photos of political terrorists, I began in 1980... my most successful series of nudes...
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This image by Helmut Newton has become one of the most widely-published, recognisable and emblematic of his photographs. It effectively defines the concept of the Newton woman -- powerful, assertive, and coolly confrontational. The subject's carefully directed pose and the sense of her towering stature -- exaggerated by a low camera angle that gives the viewer the sensation of gazing up at her, even on the printed page -- contribute to the indelible impact of the picture. Yet this image that has come to represent the photographer so universally is in one respect apparently uncharacteristic of his work. For Newton very rarely worked against a plain studio backdrop. The very idea was anathema to him. He always liked to situate his figures in an environment. Newton's modus operandi involved the reconstruction in heightened, concentrated pictorial form of details, gestures and scenarios that he had observed in life.
The Big Nude series in fact had its origin in something Newton had observed. He has explained how in 1980 he came across a series of press photos showing the offices of the special branch of the German police responsible for catching the Bader-Meinhof terrorists. These showed full-length, life-size photographs of members of the group fixed to the walls. These photos gave Newton an idea for a Vogue feature that would replicate the set-up but feature naked female figures instead of terrorists. His working title for the series was The Terrorists, but he soon changed this to The Big Nudes. Big Nude III has become the undisputed icon of the series.
The model for Big Nude III is Henriette Allais. Half French, part Cherokee, she was born in July 1954 in Jacksonville, Florida and raised in Brunswick, Georgia. She studied at a dental school in L.A. and became an orthodontic assistant before trying her luck as a model. She enjoyed some success as a nude model in the US before making the trip to Paris that led to her encounter with Newton. He was impressed with her and worked with her extensively between 1980 and 1981, immortalizing her as Big Nude III, the single most visible image from the series and one of the most celebrated of all Newton's pictures.
Big Nude III was first exhibited, with others from the series, in the Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris, in the show 'Helmut Newton Photographies, 1980-81', October 29 - November 26, 1981. It had been published first in French Vogue, October 1980, within an image in which the first series of Big Nudes are hung around the walls of a room, with close-up details glowing on monitor screens, Newton's reinterpretation of the press image that had stimulated his curiosity. Big Nude III was first published independently as a cover to the contemporary art revue Artistes in January the following year. It became the poster image for the Templon show. Presenting prints of this scale was a dramatic, though in this instance entirely logical departure. The show happened at a turning point in Newton's career. He had always been principally focused on making pictures for the printed page. While this remained his primary means of connecting with his audience, from around 1980 demand from collectors for his work increased and Newton started to number his prints in editions. Reference to the few known prints of 'Big Nude III' in this size, however, reveals certain anomalies in the edition. The present print is numbered '4/13'. Newton had intended to make a larger edition, but early on decided to cap the edition, as confirmed in his note on the certificate that accompanies this print. Two prints were in fact given the number '3', one of these identified as '3 of 3'. Newton has also confirmed the existence of a very small number of prints 'hors commerce', never intended for sale. No doubt in time it will be possible to create a full census of the life-size prints of this important image. What is certain is that the number of prints in existence is very small -- most likely less than the originally intended edition.