William (Bill) Helburn is one of the great fashion photographers. A contemporary of Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Francesco Scavullo and Lillian Bassman, Helburn was at the top of his profession from the early 1950s through the 1960s, with bylined covers and editorial images in the pages of Harper’s Bazaar, Life, McCall’s and many other magazines. Helburn also worked extensively in advertising, contributing memorable pictures to campaigns designed by such legendary art directors as Gene Federico, Robert Gage, Helmut Krone and George Lois.
Throughout his career Helburn strove to grab the viewer’s attention, contextualizing his models in images that jumped off the page. “I tried to always, always, always do something a little different. I would put a girl on a couch in Times Square – put it in the middle of the avenue there. I would take girls out in the middle of a snowstorm naked under a fur coat and have them strip naked in the middle of a street – and do a shot. Shock value was a term that was used. And I meant to shock people as much as I could.”
Helburn’s first work in photography came at the close of World War Two, when he was part of the team that processed the first pictures of the atom bomb exploding over Hiroshima. Inspired soon after by then‐partner Ted Croner’s encounter with model Lisa Fonssagrives posing naked on skis, Helburn entered the fashion world in 1947, shooting neophyte models like Grace Kelly and Tippi Hedren while studying graphic design with legendary art director Alexey Brodovitch. Success followed soon after for Helburn, along with a rich social life that included many of the most famous fashion models and celebrities of his era along with frequent turns on the road racing circuit, driving Ferraris at Sebring, Watkins Glen, Havana and Nassau.
Model Sunny Griffin says working with Helburn was “sexy” and for decades Helburn photographed and socialized with the world’s most beautiful women, including Dorian Leigh, Dovima, Suzy Parker, Jean Shrimpton, Angela Howard, Jean Patchett, Lauren Hutton and Sharon Tate. Helburn became a successful director of TV commercials in the early 1980s. He left the industry a decade later to raise his children.