Saturday 7 January 2012

Eve Arnold April 12th 1912 - January 4th 2012

Eve Arnold, legendary photographer and pioneering woman died on January 4th this 2012, just a few months short of her one hundredth birthday.

Marilyn Monroe with Arthur Mills on location for The Misfits, Nevada, 1960
Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Russian immigrant parents, she started photographing in 1946. She was a pioneer in all senses of the word. She was the only woman member of the Magnum group, joining formally in 1957 but working with them from 1951. Magnum included such giants as Robert Capa, Cartier-Bresson, Herbert List, Elliott Erwitt and Werner Bischoff. 

She went to the Soviet Union in the mid-1960's when it was still closed to outsiders and managed to take photographs in a Moscow psychiatric hospital, including of political prisoners receiving "hydrotherapy". She spoke of constantly being aware of being monitored during the Soviet Union trip, relating a particular story about sitting on her bed in her hotel room in Sukhumi talking out loud about how dirty the room and the windows were and then ten minutes later two maids turned up with mops, brooms and cleaning cloths. It seems the bugging was more effective than the cleaning.

She visited South Africa and exposed the excesses of the apartheid regime, including the separation of families due to fathers having to work many miles away from their homes and being unable to move the families with them, She photographed children suffering from malnutrition long before this became a regular sight on television screens.

She famously photographed Malcolm X and members of his Nation of Islam organisation, ironically being on the receiving end of racism herself during this assignment. She reported that as she wandered amongst the crowd at a meeting there were shouts of "kill the white bitch" and she discovered at the end of the evening that her wool sweater was polka dotted with cigarette burns where members of the crowd had stuck burning cigarettes into her clothing as she had moved amongst them. She seemed to develop a good relationship with X and reported that he would tease her and make jokes with her.

Working with Malcolm X was not the first time she had worked in Harlem. In the early 1950's she had covered the only recently re-discovered black fashion scene of the period, including photographing the famous model Charlotte Stribling, also known as "Fabulous".

Charlotte Stribling, a.k.a. Fabulous, fashion show Harlem 1952
As well as visiting the Soviet Union, Eve Arnold visited other closed societies including China and Mongolia in 1979 and in 1971 Dubai and Abu Dhabi where she won the confidence of the local royalty enough to be allowed to take photographs of several women in a Dubai harem. 

In 1969, Eve spent several months in Afghanistan. When asked how she had set up a studio there, she replied that she hadn't, saying "I just would walk up to whoever I fancied would look good on film and click. My subjects enjoyed it almost as much as did I. The men were friendly; they didn't mug, just looked directly at me". It is hard to imagine being able to do this now.

Folk song group, Inner Mongolia, 1979
She also photographed the rich and famous - Monroe and Miller, Taylor and Burton, Indira Ghandi, Margaret Thatcher and Joan Crawford, not to mention less mainstream work such as photographing transvestite nuns or Mexican prostitutes.

The Barbican staged a retrospective of this unique artist in 1995. The award winning book from the exhibition "In Retrospect" concentrated almost entirely on her photographs of people. Her feelings about photographing people are interestingly summed up in her famous quote "If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument".The photographs attached to this post were included in the 1995 Barbican exhibition. It must now be time for another.

A scribe and his client, Afghanistan, 1969
Bar girl, Havana, 1954

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