Helmut Newton, Mennequins, Quai d’Orsay, Paris, 1977

Helmut Newton (Australian, b. Germany, 1920-2004), Mennequins, Quai d’Orsay, Paris, 1977

Helmut Newton (Australian, b. Germany, 1920-2004), Mennequins, Quai d’Orsay, Paris, 1977. Gelatin Silver Print, 8 3/16 x 12 3/8 in. Gift of Dr. Kristaps J. Keggi

Two women stand locked in an embrace against a gilded desk. One naked but for the pumps leans against the other dressed in the tuxedo look called “le smoking.” The kiss is set in a luxury apartment on Paris’s Left Bank amidst statuettes and a painted threesome set off against metallic walls and fur-lined floors. The interplay of textures and surfaces pulses the push-pull of erotic encounter around the room. The title “Mennequins” insinuates an “e” into the French “mannequins” for models, making us aware of the “man” in the word for one who models clothes. Literally translated this diminutive would yield something like “little men.” The cigarette or little cigar pointing out from the hand round the neck, like the suggestive opening of the smoking jacket, might seem to give us little copies in the place of the sex and gender originals they puff up. But the erotic styling of sex and gender as the stuff of fetish play in the scene of smoking is also potentially incendiary: where there’s smoke…