One Must Suffer to be Beautiful

After patiently surviving the seemingly endless line of museum visitors trying to escape this summer’s unexpected burst of fall weather, I take my pesky weatherproof rain gear to the cloak room. I am in a really bad mood.

Why is there never a Euro in my wallet when I need it? And why do I have to pay to check two items? What am I doing here in this city, while others get to lounge at the Copacabana beach? I need something to cheer me up and help me immerse myself in a more beautiful world.

And there it is!

A red carpet covers the imposing staircase of the museum‘s entrance hall. That’s the perfect welcome on this rainy July afternoon. Before I can take a single step, I have to stop again. Five large naked women dominate the entire hall. This is the Helmut Newton I have often experienced, but, with that damn rainstorm outside, the images seem more like a mirage in the desert than ever. Well, if I want to stay in a good mood, I shouldn’t start comparing myself to these superhuman creatures. 

I move on to the first floor

I’ve never seen Newton’s polaroids before. I’m reminded of my childhood: I was so astounded to hold the photograph in my hands seconds after it was taken, and to see the figures slowly emerge! Newton used his polaroids as studies. Their weird color and blurred image are fascinating, and they actually hold up as independent works of art.

I walk through the exhibition rooms: Monte Carlo, St. Tropez, Los Angeles, Versace, Chanel… Blinded by these icons of High Society and beauty, I cannot help but think that Newton was simply obsessed with women. Everything seems so unreal, until I discover the images of models screaming, swallowing pills or devouring meat with their hands. Now the truth comes out. This is exciting! 

Then, I am fascinated by Newton’s marginal notes on several photographs. They convince me that he was really present. A video, in which the women in the photographs come to life, provides the last bit of proof.

At the ground floor

I come upon a photograph by Newton from 1991. The inscription: “I was there; reality does not lie.” I smile to myself.

As I leave the museum, the rain has miraculously stopped after four days. With the polaroids in the back of my mind, I wonder if it wouldn’t be a good idea to go to the gym now. But ultimately I decide to treat myself to a nice meal. I’m in need of a little comfort and, as we all know, one must suffer to be beautiful.