Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Magnum Legacy Eve Arnold

Let me admit right away that I've had considerable problems deciding which of the images made available by Magnum I should choose to show here  for there was this limit that only up to three can be used without fees  and so, well, to leave out the truly wonderful Marilyn Monroe shots or the one of Angelica Huston at the age of sixteen or ... wasn't that easy. The ones I've finally chosen will give you an idea of the variety of Eve Arnold's photographs. And, it will hopefully make you want to see more of her often stunning pictures.

This book is the first in the Magnum Legacy series. From the foreword by Susan Meiselas and Andrew E. Lewin I learn that the series "seeks to explore a photographer's life between and around the photographs. Through the combination of biographical text, archival materials, and iconic imagery, each book will be devoted to one former or living Magnum photographer. It will explore his or her individual creative and work process, the mechanics of story making, and the evolving relationship of photojournalism and documentary photography to the various media outlets and beyond that Magnum has served since its inception in 1947."
USA. Hollywood. Joan Crawford. 
1959 © Eve Arnold / Magnum Photos

Eve Arnold was born poor in America, on 21 April 2012 in Philadelphia, the fifth of ten children. Her parents were Jewish immigrants from Ukraine. Her photographic education consisted in a six-week course at the New School for Social Research in New York City. An important lesson she learned early on was "to retain editorial control over her work and, whenever possible, wrote the accompanying text herself."

In 1951, in Brookhaven Township, on the North Shore of Long Island, she "started what would turn out to be a ten-year project on one family, the Davises, whose Long Island roots dated back to 1710." The most extraordinary shot shows them having a church supper near the tombs of their ancestors.

"Eve always felt that being a woman was an advantage", author Janine di Giovanni notes. Arnold explains: "Men like to be photographed by women, it becomes flirtatious and fun, and women feel less as if they're expected to be in a relationship."
USA. New York City. Marlene Dietrich at
the recording studios of Columbia Records, 
who were releasing most of her songs she had 
performed for the troops during World War II, 
including Lili Marlene, Miss Otis Regrets
She was 51 years old and starting a come-back 
in show business. It was a wet and cold November
night and work could only begin at midnight at the 
advise of Marlene's astrologer.
November 1952 © Eve Arnold / Magnum Photos

On the one hand, Eve Arnold was photographing celebrities ("I was not impressed with the names but interested in why they were the chosen ones"), on the other, she documented cruelties like, for instance, "early trials of a tranquilizer called Milltown that was being tested on 'guinea pigs' inside a Haitian insane asylum." One of her most intriguing projects I think to be "Behind the Veil" that started in 1969 in Afghanistan where the veil had been outlawed a decade earlier, went on to Egypt, where the veil had already in 1920 been removed, and to the United Arab Emirates, "home of the Muslim world's most heavily veiled women."

"In the midst of a chaotic set  and a crowd of Magnum photographers", remarks di Giovanni on the photographs from the filming of The Misfits, "Eve somehow managed to seize intimacy from all her subjects - notably the ailing Gable - but it was Monroe who, even in her bleakest moments, shaped the shoot." I'm glad di Giovanni points that out for, sadly, the influence of the person photographed is often overlooked, one rarely gets to read about it. Eve Arnold wrote years later: "I never knew anyone who even came close to Marilyn in natural ability to use both photographer and still camera."

The collaboration between photographer and subject gets also mentioned when Arnold elaborates on Malcolm X, the leader of the Black Muslims (the Nation of Islam): "He obviously had an idea of how he wanted the public to see him and he maneuvered me into showing him that way." There are quite some photographers who would not want to be used by their subjects but Arnold thought that intriguing. "I am always delighted by the manipulation that goes on between subject and photographer when the subject knows about the camera and how it can best be used to his advantage."
China. Inner Mongolia. Horse training for the militia. 
1979 © Eve Arnold / Magnum Photos

Eve Arnold was an excellent photojournalist. By this I mean that she didn't just show up and shoot pictures but knew very well what she got herself into for she meticulously researched her stories. And, she was a creative thinker. "It seemed to me that Goya, who dealt with reality, was a reporter, and that if he had lived in the 20th century he might have used a Leica instead of a paintbrush to document his time."

"Janine di Giovanni, who had known and admired Eve, signed on to the project enthusiastically", I read in the acknowledgements. And, she contributed a formidable text, I'd say, that also includes insightful and informative readings of quite some of the pictures in this highly recommendable book..

Janine di Giovanni
Magnum Legacy Eve Arnold
Magnum Foundation
Prestel, Munich-London-New York 2015

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