SHARP: THE BOOK FOR MEN FALL/WINTER 2019, FEATURING COVER STAR CLIVE OWEN, IS OUT NOW.
The photographer Helmut Newton once said, “If a photographer says he is not a voyeur, he is an idiot.”
The same, I think, could be said of magazine editors. We spend our days scrabbling for stories, trying to immerse ourselves as much as possible in lives that aren’t our own. Newton’s words were meant as a rebuff to critics who thought his work — deeply intimate, often provocative portraits of models and celebrities — was insensitive, or even crass. But Newton may well have been smirking when he said them. What he didn’t add, though I’m sure he believed, is that that’s the whole fun.
Newton’s voyeurism was his own obsession. He needed to pry deeply into the lives of his subjects, to try to see with his camera what most untrained eyes could never access, or would never dare. That’s what made him not just an iconic artist, but a truly fascinating subject in his own right. In this issue, on the 20th anniversary of his seminal book, Sumo, we revisit his work, and rediscover a man driven by his obsessive nature and an approach to life that was big, brash, and unwavering in his devotion to his work.
In some ways, that speaks to the guiding principle of this very book, and that thing that drives us as editors: there’s nothing in the world more fascinating than other peoples’ obsessions.
Over the years, I’ve noticed that the subjects we profile tend to have one specific thing in common: they cannot help themselves. They are compelled, consumed by the totality of their endeavours. They see the world differently than the rest of us, in a different level of detail. That’s what makes them so good at what they do.
This is true as much for actors — like our cover star, Clive Owen — as it is for photographers, adventure-seekers, and fashion designers. After all, it takes a certain kind of artist to labour for months over the details of a jacket or the hem of a pair of pants, working and reworking the line of a suit or the exact, specific slouchiness of an oversized sweater. These are people with uncompromising vision, and it guides them completely.
One of the reasons, I think, that Newton was so controversial in his time is that this can be frightening. With his camera, he made us see the world through his eyes. He made us look too closely.
But we should follow his lead if we can. We should, in fact, all become a little more obsessed, whether about a craft or a policy or a movement. We should pay attention to life’s details and challenge ourselves. We should lose our grips, just a touch, about something. We should find new ways of seeing.
I hope you find some here.