“Photography, as we all know, is not real at all. It is an illusion of reality with which we create our own private world,” American photographer Arnold Newman (1981–2006) observed. “I am convinced that any photographic attempt to show the complete man is nonsense. We can only show, as best we can, what the outer man reveals. The inner man is seldom revealed to anyone, sometimes not even the man himself.”
Newman came to this understanding after a lifetime as a photographer of Environmental Portraiture, a movement he founded. Rather than shoot in a studio or at a random location, here the subject is photographed in their natural surroundings in order to illuminate an aspect of their character. Here the photographer becomes the medium, transforming what three dimensions into two. As Newman observed, “The camera is a mirror with a memory, but it cannot think.”
The silent presence of the photographer in evident every image we see. In a Newman photograph, there is nothing short of mastery. His career spanned 66 years, from humble beginnings making 49-cent portraits at a Philadelphia photo studio in1938. In 1941, Alfred Stieglitz “discovered him,” and Newman was given an exhibit with Ben Rose at A.D. Gallery that year. In 1945, he had a solo show at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, titled “Artists Look Like This,” introducing his new style of environmental portraiture to the world.
In 1946, he returned to his native New York to open Arnold Newman Studios. Working for Fortune, LIFE, and Newsweek, Newman began photographing everyone from Pablo Picasso to Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy to Mickey Mantle. By introducing environmental portraiture to the world, Newman took us behind the curtain, into another world.
Celebrating his majestic legacy, the Boca Raton Museum of Art presents Arnold Newman: Masterclass, now through July 3, 2016. Organized by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photograph (FEP) in conjunction with the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas in Austin and curated by William A. Ewing, the exhibition presents 200 mainly black and white photographs of luminaries including Truman Captote, Mark Chagall, Andy Warhol, Salvador Dali, Georgia O’Keefe, and Twyla Tharp, among many others.
Every photograph is a portrait of the artist and in Masterclass we see this taken to new heights of extraordinary, range, depth, and intensity. As Newman observed, “Influences come from everywhere but when you are actually shooting you work primarily by instinct. But what is instinct? It is a lifetime accumulation of influence: experience, knowledge, seeing and hearing. There is little time for reflection in taking a photograph. All your experiences come to a peak and you work on two levels: conscious and unconscious.”
Todd Brandow, Executive Director of FEP, noted, “Newman was a great teacher, and he loved sharing his knowledge. He was blunt but direct, mitigating tough criticism with good-natured banter. He had principles in which he deeply believed, and he seems to have known how to impart them. Thankfully he gave many interviews, which have been transcribed, and what he had to say was consistent in its essentials from the first to the last. It was these ‘lessons’ that led us to the concept of ‘Masterclass’; the idea that, even posthumously, Arnold Newman could go on teaching all of us—whether connoisseurs or neophytes—a great deal.”