Friday, May 17, 2013

Photographer Eve Arnold's People

Eve Arnold (1912–2012) was a humanist who happened to be a photographer. She was an artist and documentarian whose lens captured both political and social history. Famed for her candid glimpses of movie stars like Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, and Marlene Deitrich, she bought to the world's eyes images of common folk from Cuba, rural Virginia, Harlem, China, Russia, rural and urban England, South Africa, and elsewhere. (Above, Arnold with Monroe and with Joan Crawford [the latter by Gordon Parks])
Cuban bar girl, 1954

Crawford in LA, 1954
"If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given" she once observed. "It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument." Arnold returned from photographing South Africa under apartheid "absolutely shattered" as she told her friend John Tusa. "My GP send me to a heart man and I went and he prescribed something. Still it went on for months. And he said, 'The only way I can describe it is that you are suffering from a broken heart.'"
The images in this post are from the 2009 retrospective Eve Arnold's People, curated by Brigitte Lardinois, with appreciations by Angelica Huston and Isabella Rossellini.
"If she saw me noticing the camera, she stopped photographing me." 
Isabella Rossellini, Life magazine cover, 1965. © Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos
"What makes you tick?' I asked. "If you were to define in one word, what is the engine that powers you, what would that word be?" She answered, "Curiosity.".... Eve's intimacy with people is revealed in her photos. Her subjects are relaxed and spontaneous in front of her lens. How did she do it? How did she conquer the trust of such revered people? I knew that answer as soon as I met her. She loves life and human beings, and that's what she is after. With her compassionate eyes and her sense of humour, she is there pointing her lens to take the picture of a human being behind the star, behind the politician, behind the destitute, and behind the child.... On my kitchen wall amidst the photos of my children and parents, I have photos that Eve gave me of her work. They always make me smile."
Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in a pub in Shepperton, England, where he was filming Becket.

Uttar Pradesh, India. Audience for an Indira Gandhi rally. 1978.
"Her portraits have the air of a caught shot, while in fact being the fruit of a long experience, a period of waiting while trust is built.... While there was always a steady demand for the shots of James Cagney, Clark Gable, James Dean and Paul Newman, she reckoned that her 10-year-long documentation of Monroe evinced more constant and lasting interest than the rest put together. Certainly, those taken on the set of The Misfits [right and below] were the high point of a major dual auction of Arnold's work, held in California and London in November 1993."—The Guardian


  1. The Misfits was filmed at a critical time for Gable, Monroe, and Arthur Miller, who did the script. Monroe and Miller's marriage was ending, and her drug abuse left her in a fragile state. During the scene where her character rages over the treatment of horses, it seemed as though Marilyn were crying out in her real frustration and pain. That the film was her last, and Gable's last, gave it an allure that has nothing to do with the picture's merits.
    The last photo hints at her anguish at that time.

    1. All the more reason for her feeling safe with Arnold, when she was so tormented and exploited by all and sundry. There were many photographs Monroe asked her not to make public, and she never did.

    2. I am glad she respected her subject's wishes. But if the photos were not destroyed, negatives included, they will one day be revealed, by third parties, to a gawking public.
      In some way, the Indians who believed that a photograph steals your soul away might have been right.