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Ten years after

By June Newton

One day in Los Angeles in the year 1997 Helmut received a call from Benedikt Taschen, the German publisher, who was staying in a hotel minutes away from ours and told him he had something to show him. So, Helmut went off to see what it was. Shortly after, I received a call from Helmut telling me to drop everything and come at once. I obeyed his order and walked the few blocks to Benedikt’s hotel and took the lift to his suite, to find Benedikt and Helmut awaiting my reaction to what eventually became known as SUMO—the most expensive 20th-century book at a charity auction in Berlin on 6 April 2000.

A magnificent piece of work, the brainchild of a publisher who was to change the world of publishing. A daring maverick of a man. I fell in love with it immediately. It was an empty maquette, except for a few printed pages. One of which was a snap that Helmut had taken of me in our apartment in the Marais in Paris. It was taken after dinner one evening in our kitchen. I was wearing an Ossie Clark peignoir and Helmut, who always had a camera ready, asked me to open up, but Benedikt’s wit had nothing to do with my immediate reaction to something I’d never seen before.

Helmut was reticent but I wasn’t. That evening began a lifelong friendship and it is fitting that, in Helmut’s absence, “Ten Years After”, this smaller edition of SUMO will coincide with an exhibition of the original pages from the book that many admirers of Helmut’s work could not afford to buy.

1: Hollywood, December 1997: Benedikt Taschen with the handmade dummy of SUMO when first presenting his idea of producing a gigantic book to stunned Helmut and June Newton in his suite at the Sunset Marquis Hotel. Photo: Helmut Newton

2/3: Monte Carlo, February 1999: While June Newton is finalizing the picture edit, Helmut Newton is putting his signature on the pages which were subsequently bound into SUMO. Signing the entire print run of 10,000 copies plus 200 artist’s proofs over a period of five months was not Newton’s favorite part of the production.

4: Cologne, September 1998: Helmut and June Newton checking the proofs with TASCHEN’s Head of Prepress Horst Neuzner. Up to six proofs per print were necessary to meet their perfectionist quality standards.

5: Cologne, March 1999: The entire TASCHEN production team involved in the making of SUMO with the Newtons at the publishing house. Photos: Helmut Newton/Alice Springs