From his earliest days as a photographer on the streets of Chicago, Marvin E. Newman has worked to harmonize formal experimentation with a sensitive, ever-present humanism. Whether on editorial commission for Sports Illustrated or Look Magazine (two of the many publications that he contributed to for the better part of five decades), or whether he was capturing the shadows and silhouettes cast by pedestrians on city streets, Newman’s photography has always been structured by a deep fascination with the medium’s fundamental duality: light and shadow. A pioneering color photographer, Newman helped define a standard for editorial work in that format during the 1950’s, a time when few photographers were shooting in color outside of fashion and advertising.
The training and tutelage Newman received from Aaron Siskind and Harry Callahan - both of whom were teachers at the Institute of Design in Chicago where Newman enrolled in 1950 and from which he graduated in 1952 - was instrumental. Newman’s Shadow series, produced in Chicago in 1951, was a moment of clear importance: “I felt as though I had discovered something there on the streets. Something only I was seeing.” The serial structure of those pictures was something he would return to repeatedly throughout the years.
By 1953 he was working in color regularly while on commission, and it was around this time that his own photography pivoted almost entirely in that direction: “Black and white simplifies things in its own way. We see the world in color, and I wanted my photographs to engage with that fact.” Working on the Coney Island boardwalk in the winter of this year, Newman produced photographs that combined his eye for the vernacular style of popular advertisements and billboards with his curiosity for those people who still populated the beach in spite of frigid weather.
Commissioned work often provided a framework for Newman to explore more personal aesthetic concerns. Photographing the New York Stock Exchange resulted in his Sun Shadow series, in which Newman captured stock traders silhouetted by the sun on the streets surrounding the Exchange, alone and nearly anonymous. The work he produced while inside the walls of the Exchange, however, describes a vastly different element of these men’s lives: feet shuffle and papers dust the trading room floor, as the collective blur of their bodies seems a mirrored reflection of the vast sums of money being moved from one end of the world to the other.
Newman’s capacity for distilling a defining quality of a scene into a graphically complex picture has been a consistent feature of his work throughout his career. Never content to work through problems of form alone, Newman’s photography has always stayed connected to spaces both personal and social, those domains of human expression that are, for him, perpetually new.