Master Of The Portrait, Arnold Newman, 88

Arnold Newman. Photograph by Sherman Zent. © The Palm Beach Post


By Donald R. Winslow

NEW YORK, NY – Arnold Newman, the master photographer who since the 1940s has personified the "environmental portrait" in publications like Life, Look, Time, Newsweek, Esquire, and Fortune magazines, died Tuesday at 88 at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City. His pictures of friends and acquaintances – Pablo Picasso, Berenice Abbott, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Salvador Dali, and Igor Stravinsky, among many others – captured a private slice of the inner essence of his subjects' personalities.

Newman’s death was confirmed today by his son, David, and associates at a New York gallery that represents Newman’s fine art prints, the Associated Press said. He is survived by his wife, Augusta Newman, and their two sons, David, of Portland, OR, and and Eric, of Minneapolis, MN, and four grandchildren.

During recent months some of Newman’s longtime and close friends knew that the photographer was undergoing chemotherapy treatments and that he was very ill, but he was still coming into his New York studio almost daily to oversee work.

Services will be Thursday, June 8, at 1 p.m. at the Stephen Wise Free Synagogue, 30 W. 68th Street, New York City, and it is an open ceremony for those who would like to attend. The family requests that in lieu of flowers, contributions should be made in Newman's name to organizations doing research into Alzheimer's disease and groups who provide services for Alzheimer's patients.

Newman was born in New York in 1918 and studied painting and drawing at the University of Miami at Coral Gables before embracing photography. His switch to photography and working in a portrait studio in Pennsylvania was for financial reasons, Newman often said, during the Depression when his father, who was running resort hotels in Miami Beach, became ill and the family needed income. Newman could also no longer afford college, so he went to work shooting portraits in Philadelphia.

He returned to Florida in 1939, managing a portrait studio in West Palm Beach. Later he opened the Newman Portrait Studio in Maimi Beach and ran it during World War II. Then in 1946 he returned to New York and opened Arnold Newman Studios.

“I took the portrait out of the studio and started getting into real life,” the photographer said in an interview with The Digital Journalist in December 2003. Newman’s black-and-white photographs were landmarks because they brought out what his subjects did: Stravinsky at his piano; a Noble Prize-winning scientist in his laboratory; Dali with his art, or in the studio. His work epitomized the phrase “environmental portrait,” the subject surrounded by what made the person renowned. “The only thing that matters,” Newman said in the interview, “is if it is honest. If the picture is honest, you and everybody can tell. If it is dishonest, you and everybody can tell. That explains what good photography is about.”

Newman married Augusta in 1949. Those who knew him also knew that the photographer always carried with him a portrait of his wife from the days when they were first engaged. More than once he showed friends the picture of “this beautiful girl,” and it was his wife. When he met her in New York, Newman was proud to tell people as he watched for their reaction, she was part of the Haganah (the underground organization that worked for the establishment of the Israeli nation).

Marianne Fulton organized a 1994 exhibit of Newman’s photography, Newman’s Gift: 50 Years of Photography, when she was curator at George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film. A special grant from Kodak made it possible for the museum to acquire 176 of his prints. "Arnold always said vintage meant 'old and dirty' though we did get some," Fulton said. George Eastman House has one of the largest collections of Newman's work, Fulton says, as a result of the Kodak grant and Newman's generosity. ICP gave Newman its Infinity Award as a master of photography in 1999.

“I worked with and visited Arnold and ‘Gus’ (Augusta) many times over the years,” Fulton said tonight after the news of Newman’s death spread. “I generally found myself eating at least one meal, whether at a local restaurant or leaning against their kitchen counter. Today on hearing the news, a large hole opened in my heart. He was always on the go and now he himself is gone. It’s so hard to take in.

Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton, Edward Steichen, and Newman made portraits of the famous that expressed the 20th century’s values and idiosyncrasies,” Fulton said. “There is no one like them.

“He always maintained that he had ‘no style,’ that he let the humanity of the sitter reveal itself,” Fulton remembers. “His masterful portraits of the great painters of the 1940s and 1950s are well known. In Max Ernst, 1942, for example, the painter sits in an extremely high-backed theatrical chair. Heavy cigarette smoke swirls around almost obscuring the face. As the smoke curls around face and chair, it echoes the ornate carving of the back. The scene has a mysterious and odd sense that is felt in many of Ernst's paintings. Newman’s gift was to reveal the famous sitter in literally a new light.”

That Newman achieved world stature as the portrait photographer of the 20th century would not have surprised those who saw his early talent for photographing people. He told Fulton in a 2003 interview that he was only 23 years old when he took his “lean” portfolio of photographs, made while working for a chain-owned portrait studio, to New York. In the selection were also photographs that he made in Florida in the African-American community, pictures that were reminiscent of Walker Evans. In New York Newman asked Beaumont Newhall, curator of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art, to look at his work. Newhall was impressed. So much so that he sent the young photographer to see Alfred Stieglitz. After that, he met a gallery owner who wanted him to participate in a joint exhibit.

In the course of two days in Manhattan, Fulton says, Newman had met two of the most important people in photography and had been asked to be in a show.

During the early years of his New York career, Newman shot fashion for Harper’s Bazaar and did assignments for Life, in museums and artists’ studios, as well as portraits of important people. He opened his own portrait studio in New York in 1946. He told Fulton that he never really liked the “cold studio” portraiture and wanted to have his subjects sitting in their own environment where they would relax.

Arnold Newman Breaking Ground (2000), his thirteenth book, was published to accompany exhibits of his work at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Newman traveled for the book’s release, giving many lectures around the country.

“He was a great man. He could be annoying for one small reason or another. Growing hard of hearing made no difference when it came to listening to certain opinions - he still didn’t listen! That sounds unkind, and I only mean it to be a fond remembrance shared by friends. He did listen – for new ideas and he was forever inquisitive," Fulton said.

"He always said that he didn’t want to live in a community of ‘old people.’ He wanted to be with exuberant youth. To me he was a generous uncle who laughed and told his stories – old and new. I’ll miss him roaring my name from across a gathering, his very large presence, his playful banter with Gus, and now I’ll really miss his stories.” Fulton remembers that occasionally, in loving exasperation, his beloved wife Augusta would say, "Oh, Arnold, everyone has heard that a million times!"