William Helburn

William Helburn

Seventh and Madison

  1. William Helburn
  2. Edited by Robert Lilly
  • ISBN 9780500517659
  • 30.50 x 25.40 cm
  • Hardback
  • 224pp
  • With 200 illustrations in colour and black and white
  • First published 2014

William Helburn, a quintessential figure of the ‘Mad Men’ era, was one of the most prolific and dynamic photographers of the New York school that dominated fashion and advertising from the late 1940s to the 1960s. He then seemed to disappear and almost none of these images have been seen since they were first published decades ago.

‘The past has caught up with William Helburn … 25 years after his retirement, the first book on his work is being published. And with it, a chapter in the history of fashion photography may have to be revised’ – The Observer
'Top of my list is 'William Helburn' which brings the fun and colour of mid century America to life in stylish detail. One can’t help but imagine Don Draper, cigarette in hand, just out of shot'– Daily Telegraph, Christmas Books Round-Up
‘There is something utterly engaging about the colours, outfits and models. A beautiful book’ – Amateur Photographer
‘A gloriously glamorous exploration of the work of the top advertising photographer of the 1950s and 1960s’– Daily Telegraph
'… not only documents the perfectly glamorous type of commercial image-making that was popular at the time, it also recognises the significant contribution Helburn made to the industry through the presentation of 200 captivating colour images' – Aesthetica

William Helburn

This handsome volume is the first book to survey his photographic work and brings to light his magnificent career and restores him to the pantheon of postwar photographers.

Helburn was the photographer of choice for many of the top advertising agencies in New York in the 1950s and 1960s. Doyle Dane Bernbach’s Helmut Krone considered Helburn a hero for fighting ‘the limits and style of the studio and the slowness of Kodachrome’, achieving ‘a revolution in visual methods’. As Helburnhimself said, ‘I always tried to do something different. Shock value was a term that was used. And I meant to shock people as much as I could.’ Shock value and an unrelenting hunger for success helped Helburn to a pioneer’s share in the revolutionary era of advertising while his work would also appear on the editorial pages and covers of major magazines.

William Helburn

For Helburn, working for the top agencies was as good for a photographer as working for Vogue or Harper’s Bazaar. However, his advertising work was largely uncredited, and so he remained relatively anonymous except to those in the know at the magazines and agencies. He was the consummate insider. As he said, ‘The only way to make more money in photography was to do competitive, conflicting accounts. If you do Cadillac, Chrysler doesn’t want you. But I did both. And I did Revlon and Max Factor. But I kept it to myself.’

In addition to cars and cosmetics, Helburn shot for Coca-Cola and Canada Dry, clothing lines and airlines, cigars and cigarettes and any number of other products. He worked with the top models of the day, from Dovima and Dorian Leigh, to Jean Patchett and Barbara Mullen to Jean Shrimpton and Lauren Hutton.

Away from the camera, Helburn lived the high life: he raced his Ferrari; he threw annual parties where jazz greats such as Count Basie and Art Blakey would perform; he cultivated his reputation as a charming rake and socialized across New York’s creative worlds at the Stork Club, P. J. Clarke’s, Gino’s, Le Cirque and Birdland; and he photographed wave after wave of the world’s most beautiful women.

In addition to the photographs, Robert Lilly contributes a biographical account of Helburn’s life and work, and former colleagues – photographer Jerry Schatzberg, art director George Lois, and models Sunny Griffin and Ali MacGraw – offer insights into Helburn’s creative spirit.

After serving in the US Army, a partner’s chance encounter with Fernand Fonssagrives turned Helburn towards fashion photography. He attended Alexander Brodovitch’s famous Design Laboratory and went on to shoot for Harper’s Bazaar, Life, Esquire, Town & Country, Ladies’ Home Journal, McCall’s and Charm. He was a first-call photographer for the top advertising firms of the era, including Altman, Stoller; Delehanty, Kurnit & Geller; Young & Rubicam; and Doyle Dane Bernbach. Helburn won numerous advertising and graphic arts awards. He would turn to television commercials in the 1970s, but continued shooting still photography into the early 1980s. He lives in Connecticut.

About the Authors
For more than thirty years, Robert Lilly, a native New Yorker, has produced news programmes, stories and documentaries from Europe, the Middle East and the Americas for companies including NBC, CNN, VH1 and Reuters.
Lois Allen Lilly is from New York and Florida. She is a producer, reporter, narrator and intellectual property specialist. They live in New York.