Arnold Newman: Breaking Ground
In his long career as a photographer Arnold Newman has defined the spirit of politicians, cultural icons and everyday people. One of the best-known and most distinguished portrait photographers today, he has consistently combined an innovative style with an impeccable technique. This presentation featured 157 photographs from 1938 to 1999 and highlights many vintage prints that had not been previously on view. The exhibition included well-known images of Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, Arthur Miller, and John F. Kennedy among many others.
“Arnold Newman has earned a reputation as one of the most influential portraitists of our time, a photographer who has changed the way we look at ourselves,” says Philip Brookman, exhibition organizer and curator of photography and media arts at the Corcoran. “He has, over time, influenced our vision of the world and often when we think of Picasso, Lyndon Johnson, or Woody Allen, to name but a few, we conjure one of his images.”
Newman pioneered the development of “environmental portraiture,” a style which places his subjects in a carefully composed setting that captures the essence of their work and personality. According to Newman, “The portrait is a form of biography. Its purpose is to inform now and to record for history.”
Newman’s first serious photographs were portraits of people on the street. It was through these images that he learned to balance architectural environments with human presence. “He found that concentrating on, and experimenting with, the interaction between figure and environment, he could symbolically express insight into the personality of his subject,” says Brookman. Influenced by Farm Security Administration photographers, such as Walker Evans, Newman sought out people in every day settings and compositionally connected them to these places in his pictures. He also began to experiment with landscape, still life and collage subjects in the early 1940s. This exhibition features rare examples of his early photographs in an effort to examine the evolution of his signature style.
During his career, Newman photographed the most celebrated people of the 20th century. His subjects included artists from Edward Hopper to George Seagle, writers from Eugene O’Neill to Paul Auster, musicians from Leonard Bernstein to George Harrison and politicians from Harry S. Truman to Yitzhak Rabin. During this time, he worked for leading publications such as Life, Look, Fortune, Holiday, The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker.
“We don’t take pictures with our cameras,” says Newman, now 81 years old. “we take them with our hearts and minds. It is how we photograph not what we photograph, that matters. For me, I am interested in what motivates individuals, what they do with their lives, their personalities and how I perceive and interpret them. But of equal importance and perhaps even more important is that, even if the person is not known or is forgotten, the photograph itself should still be of interest or even excite the viewer. That is what my life and work is all about.”
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Born in 1918 in New York, Newman grew up in Atlantic City and Miami Beach. In the mid-1930s, he studied art in high school and then focused on painting and printmaking at the University of Miami before moving to Philadelphia to take his first professional job in a portrait studio. Inspired by Farm Security Administration photographs of America’s depression years, Newman began photographing people on the streets in 1938 and moved to New York in 1941, where he began experimenting by photographing artists. His meetings with leading photographers and curators, including Beaumont Hall and Alfred Steiglitz led to exhibitions and steady work for publications, advertising and political reportage.