The Making of Helmut Newton’s SUMO

The Helmut Newton SUMO was overwhelming in every respect: a 464-page homage to the most influential and controversial photographer of the 20th century, and a book that broke records for weight, dimensions, and resale price.

Helmut Newton checks a printing sheet during Frankfurt Book Fair, 1999.

Helmut Newton signing the pages which were subsequently bound into SUMO. Monte Carlo, 1999. Photo by Alice Springs.

Over a period of two years, Helmut Newton and Benedikt Taschen exchanged letters, faxes, and phone calls to define details of the SUMO production. At some point, not amused by the prospect of having to sign the entire print run of 10,000 copies, Newton tried to wrestle out of the agreement, suggesting to “maybe sign a few dozen” printing sheets.

Left: 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, Hollywood, 1997. Photo by Helmut Newton

Right: Helmut Newton, Benedikt Taschen and auctioneer Simon de Pury after the auction of SUMO copy number one, signed by over 100 celebrities portrayed in the book. At 620,000 deutschmarks it made the world record price for a book published in the 20th century, Berlin, 2000. Photo by Alice Springs.

Exhibition view from Helmut Newton SUMO at the Helmut Newton Foundation, Berlin, 2009. Photo by Gerhard Kassner.

“That book was an outrageous idea—totally crazy!”
Helmut Newton

At 620,000 Deutschmarks SUMO made the world record price for a book published in the 20th century