Over the past 50 years, Arnold Newman has become one of the most renowned portrait photographers of the 20th century. His photos of artists and musicians, presidents and prime ministers, are instantly recognizable as his work.
Newman was born in New York City in 1918 and studied painting and drawing. With a strong interest in the arts, he accepted a scholarship to study at the University of Miami at Coral Gables. His teacher at the university, a conservative artist, pointed him in the direction of modernism, and encouraged him to visit the Museum of Modern Art in New York. When he switched from painting to photography in 1938, it was first for financial reasons during the Depression, but then he came to love the field.
One insight he gained from his first job in a Philadelphia portrait studio was the importance of interacting with the people in front of the lens. He also developed his photographic techniques. Newman ultimately found his personal vision in the empathy he had for artists and their work, and his portraits of artists are some of his most memorable. By 1945 he had returned to New York, where he worked as a freelance photographer for magazines such as Fortune, Life, Look, Newsweek, the New Yorker, and Esquire, among others.
Newman began pioneering a style that came to be known as “environmental portraiture,” which placed the subject in a carefully composed setting to capture the essence of their life and their work. He has photographed John F. Kennedy, Harry Truman, Igor Stravinsky, Pablo Picasso, Piet Mondrian, Arthur Miller, and Lillian Hellman, among many others. However, it was not just fame or power that commanded Newman’s eye. He has said that even if the photographic subject is not known, or already forgotten, the photograph itself should still be of interest to, and excite the viewer.
Now in his eighties, Newman’s career is still going strong with the publication of “Arnold Newman’s Selected Photographs” in 1999 and “Arnold Newman, 2000.”