The Man Behind the Camera—Arnold Newman: Masterclass
Newman, Georgia O’Keeffe, painter, Ghost
Ranch, New Mexico, 1968. |
Gelatin silver print © 1968, 22 5/8 x 28 1/8 in. Arnold Newman/Getty Images.
Considered one of the twentieth century’s major portrait photographers, Arnold Newman (1918–2006) took photographs that captured the artists, writers, celebrities, politicians, and businessmen that shaped the world during his long career. Well known for his perfectionism, he would meticulously craft his photographs both at the sitting and in the darkroom. However, this rigorous process often meant that in publications and exhibitions of his work, it was nearly impossible for a curator or editor to prevail against Newman’s strong opinions. Because he wanted to show work he felt was most impressive, figures who were no longer well known such as businessmen, as well as landscapes, cityscapes, and abstractions were often omitted from documentation of his work.
Arnold Newman: Masterclass, the first posthumous retrospective of Newman’s work, reverses these omissions. Always open about his process, the title references the importance of teaching in his work as he enjoyed leading workshops and courses. The exhibition is divided into ten sections loosely based on Newman’s techniques, to assist in the visitor’s understanding of his artistic evolution and priorities.
Newman, Martha Graham, dancer, choreographer and teacher, New York,
Gelatin silver print © 1961, 45 1/2 x 53 1/2 in. Arnold Newman/Getty Images.
What differentiated Newman from his contemporaries was that he photographed his subjects in their natural environments: their studios, living rooms, and offices. Newman’s approach caused him to be labeled as the pioneer of the “environmental” portrait, but he rebelled against the label insisting that his work was better understood as “symbolic.” Researching his subjects beforehand, he would use his knowledge to “build” his photographs from the clues he found in their spaces. When a sitter was nervous or reserved, Newman would purposefully bumble around the studio or stall, until they relaxed; a skill he had learned in department store portrait studios (he was forced to leave school for financial reasons). He carefully composed each frame, drawing out his subjects to capture something at the heart of their personality, often a perspective that remained otherwise hidden.
He commonly set artists’ work within the frame of their portraits, as in his photographs of Joseph Albers (1948), and Piet Mondrian (1942) who appear as elements in one of their own compositions, and made their work central to their depicted identity. Newman’s own identity as an artist and photographer, however, was removed from his personal beliefs, which rarely entered into his work. An ardent Zionist, he met his wife Augusta in 1948 while working to raise money and arrange shipments of arms to the Haganah, the underground army fighting to establish the state of Israel. He photographed David Ben-Gurion in 1967, as well as Yasser Arafat in 1993 when the two men supposedly “charmed each other.”
Newman, Igor Stravinsky, composer and
conductor, New York, 1946. |
Gelatin silver print © 1946, 17 15/16 x 21 1/16 in. Arnold Newman/Getty Images.
This separation between his work and his personal politics brings us back to the fact that Newman considered himself an artist before everything else. He would often recall the abstractions that were his focus at the beginning of his career, and to which he continued to return, highlighting the fact that photography was merely one tool. He hoped to be recognized as a photographer who happened to take portraits. Bringing together photographs demonstrating the full scope of his work, Masterclass is a lesson in artistic diversity and nuance.
Arnold Newman: Masterclass is open through February 1, 2015.