Arnold A. Newman, 1918-2006

Arnold Newman, Portrait Photographer Who Captured the Essence of His Subjects, Dies at 88

Arnold Newman, the portrait photographer whose pictures of some of the world’s most eminent people set a standard for artistic interpretation and stylistic integrity in the postwar age of picture magazines, died today in Manhattan. He was 88 and lived on the Upper West Side.

The apparent cause was a heart attack, said Ron Kurtz, the owner of Commerce Graphics, which represents Mr. Newman.

A polished craftsman, Mr. Newman first learned his trade by making 49-cent studio portraits in Philadelphia. He went on to become one of the world’s best-known and most admired photographers, his work appearing on the covers of magazines like Life and Look, in museum and gallery exhibitions and in coffee-table books.

Mr. Newman was credited with popularizing a style of photography that became known as environmental portraiture. Working primarily on assignment for magazines, he carried his camera and lighting equipment to his subjects, capturing them in their surroundings and finding in those settings visual elements to evoke their professions and personalities.

Perhaps his most celebrated image is a 1946 portrait of the composer Igor Stravinsky. Stravinsky, his expression deeply serious, is confined to the bottom left corner of the picture, cropped to his head and shoulders, an elbow resting on the piano, his hand supporting his head. The rest of the photograph is taken up by the raised lid of a large grand piano, strategically silhouetted against a blank wall, which is divided off-center into a gray and white rectangle. The lid forms the reversed shape of a leaning, abstract musical note.

By contrast, his 1949 portrait of the Modernist artist Jean Arp was taken at such an extreme close-up that the viewer sees only a hand, the right eye and a cheek and a curving, sensuous form that is unidentifiable but evocative.

Each Newman photograph had a metaphoric quality. For the folk painter Grandma Moses he arranged a homey shot, posing her in her Victorian parlor like the woman in “Whistler’s Mother.” The fashion photographer Cecil Beaton was captured, beautifully dressed, in the salon of his English country house. For Andy Warhol, Mr. Newman composed a surreal close-up collage in which he cut out Warhol’s features and repositioned them askew from where they would normally be.

The “environmental” approach was what largely distinguished Mr. Newman’s portraits from those of his contemporaries. Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, for example, preferred to work within the bald white arena of their studios. (more…)


I didn’t give much credence to the 6/6/06 bullshit, but came home from rehearsal to hear the news that Arnold had died. My friend M. was with him when he suffered his heart attack. I think I met Arnold in the late 1970s and was intimidated by his talent (I was going through a big photojournalism phase), but saw him and Gussie socially many, times over the years. He’d talk about what it was like to photograph his various famous subjects – how many people do you know had photographed Picasso, Stravinsky or Andy Warhol? He’d just accepted an award two weeks ago, and was working on two new books.