Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz
Helmut Newton and Alice Springs
One day in 1947, a rising Melbourne stage actress walked into a small Flinders Lane photography studio, looking to pick up some extra cash as a model. Expecting a whiskery old man behind the lens, she found instead a dashing young European called Helmut Newton.
June liked the look of the photos on the walls and Helmut liked the look of June. When his standard pick-up technique failed, he recruited her as his sales assistant. Within a year, they were married. “Photography will always be my first love but you will be my second,” he told her. “You talked me into it, you bastard,” she said.
June Browne was 23, four years younger than Newton. They were to remain together for the next 57 years. By the time Newton crashed his Cadillac into the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles and died, she was a renowned photographer in her own right, known as Alice Springs.
Newton was born Neustädter, the pampered son of a wealthy button manufacturer. At 13, already “besotted with photography and obsessed by sex”, he bought his first camera. A month after Kristallnacht, barely 18, he fled his beloved Berlin for the Far East, well-dressed but penniless. At 20, he was “a true gigolo”, a stateless consorter with Singapore taxi dancers. Shipped to Australia as an enemy alien in 1940, he picked peaches, joined the army and spent the war unloading freight trains in Albury. On discharge, he changed his surname to Newton, took Australian citizenship and used his deferred pay to open a tiny studio. “I love Australia,” he wrote. “I am happy here.”
While Helmut photographed baby outfits for New Idea and Shell’s new refinery at Corio, June was garnering laurels. Her Saint Joan at the National Theatre won an actress of the year award. In the ’60s, the couple moved to Paris. He became a celebrity, the king of kink, but the language barrier cost Browne her acting career. One day Newton, bedridden with influenza, suggested she cover a commercial job for him. The client didn’t notice and soon she was shooting for Elle and Depeche Mode. In need of a professional name, she shut her eyes and stuck a pin in a map of Australia.
As Alice Springs, she produced memorable portraits of some of the era’s iconic faces – Catherine Deneuve, Dennis Hopper, Terence Stamp and Charlotte Rampling. She shot her husband, too, capturing ‘Helmie’ at work amid strapping, high-class fillies in stiletto heels and nothing else.
Now 88, Alice Springs still has a sharp eye.