The award-winning actress and photographer June Newton aka Alice Springs, widow of the world-famous photographer Helmut Newton, died on 9 April 2021 at the age of 97 in her home in Monte Carlo. Alice Springs had initiated the Berlin-Charlottenburg-based Museum of Photography together with her husband in the early 2000s and was president of the Helmut Newton Foundation. “The Board of Directors and the entire team of the Helmut Newton Foundation mourn the loss of a generous person and a photographer of international renown,” reads the announcement on the artist’s death.
Alice Springs was born June Browne in Melbourne, Australia, in 1923. After school, she trained as an actress and had numerous engagements under the pseudonym June Brunell. In 1947 she met Helmut Newton, who had just set up a photo studio in Melbourne, and married him a year later. In 1956, she was awarded the Australian Erik Kuttner Award for best theatre actress. In the same year, the Newtons moved to London, where Helmut worked for British Vogue; in 1961, they moved to Paris, where a permanent position at French Vogue awaited Helmut Newton.
June Newton was unable to continue her acting career in France; instead, she took up photography herself in 1970. She first represented her husband, who was ill for a short time, for a commercial photo shoot and immediately afterwards started her own career under the pseudonym Alice Springs. In the early 1970s she photographed several campaigns for the French hairstylist Jean Louis David, the photographs were published as full-page advertisements in renowned fashion magazines. As early as 1974, the first Alice Springs motif could be seen on the cover of the French Elle and later again and again in the editorial of the fashion magazines Vogue, Marie Claire or Nova.
Jose Alvarez, who ran an advertising agency in Paris at the time, subsequently arranged commissions for her to take advertising photos of pharmaceutical products. And Alvarez, by then head of “Editions du Regard”, was also the one who published Alice Springs’ first portrait book in 1983, because from the mid-seventies onwards, numerous portrait commissions from magazines such as Egoiste, Interview or Vanity Fair followed. The list of female artists, actresses and musicians portrayed by Alice Springs reads like a Who’s Who of the international cultural scene from the past forty years on both sides of the Atlantic. In her works, Alice Springs not only documented the appearance of the celebrities or the nameless contemporaries, but also captured their charisma, sometimes their aura. Sometimes she captured the sitters in a narrow frame as a bust or three-quarter portrait, for example her colleagues Richard Avedon, Brassai’ and Ralph Gibson, but also other celebrities from the film business, including Nicole Kidman, Audrey Hepburn, Dennis Hopper, Billy Wilder or Claude Chabrol. Although she sometimes got closer and reacted more spontaneously to surprising shooting situations than some other photographers, Alice Springs left each and every individual his or her individuality. In doing so, she always succeeded in adding a new and unusual image that was as cliché-free as possible to the generally valid and familiar image.
In 1976, she was the art director for the publication White Women and subsequently for all of Helmut Newton’s other books and exhibition catalogues. Two years later, her own portraits were presented for the first time in a solo exhibition in Amsterdam, which was followed by numerous exhibitions worldwide. In 1981 Helmut and June Newton left Paris and moved to Monaco. Since then they have regularly spent the winter months at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, where they have repeatedly met and portrayed Hollywood celebrities.
In 1995, they made the documentary video Helmut by June for the French television channel Canal Plus, and three years later the joint illustrated book Us and Them, accompanied by an exhibition tour through several countries. It is an unusual project with intimate self-portraits, mutual portraits and portraits of numerous celebrities, each arranged as a diptych, in juxtaposition of the two image authors Helmut and June Newton (ak.a. Alice Springs).
In 2004, she published her autobiography Mrs Newton. In the same year, her husband Helmut died, so that in addition to her office as president of the Helmut Newton Foundation, she also took over from him the task of completing the conversion of the former officers’ mess at Zoologischer Garten station into a photography museum, which had been initiated and largely financed by the Newtons. With her characteristic willpower, she also took on this challenge, so that the Helmut Newton Foundation could be opened in the Museum of Photography in the summer of 2004. As President of the Foundation, June Newton became the driving force behind the development of the exhibition concept for the Helmut Newton Foundation in its first years. Created in cooperation with the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, it is a unique institution worldwide.
The central part of the opening exhibition was Us and Them, supplemented by the last portraits of Helmut Newton on his deathbed, taken in Los Angeles in January 2004. In 2010 and 2016, two exhibitions devoted the entire temporary exhibition space to their work. In the meantime, all negatives, contact prints, photographic prints, exhibition posters and publications have been transferred from Alice Springs to Berlin – in addition to Helmut Newton’s complete oeuvre – and have been processed there since then.
Foundation Director Matthias Harder will use June Newton’s 100th birthday in June 2023 as an opportunity to put together a major new Alice Springs retrospective.