From Pablo Picasso to Marilyn Monroe, Arnold Newman captured them all. One of the most successful portrait photographers of the 20th century, Newman photographed musicians, world leaders, intellectuals, athletes and cultural figures.
A new exhibition exploring Newman’s legendary career has made its first appearance in the U.S. right here on the Forty Acres. Arnold Newman: Masterclass was organized by the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography (FEP) and the Harry Ransom Center.
In addition to 200 vintage black and white photographs illustrating Newman’s remarkable talent, the exhibit also contains his private archives — photographs, manuscripts, correspondence, business records and magazine tear sheets that give visitors a behind-the-scenes look at his monumental career.
Roy Flukinger, senior research curator of photography at the Ransom Center, says around the time of Newman’s death in 2006, the Center made an agreement with him and his family to acquire an archive of his work. A few years later, they negotiated with FEP to host the opening of this exhibition in America at the Center. The traveling exhibition was last exhibited in Berlin and will head to San Diego after its run at the Ransom Center.
“Parts of the archive had been shipped to us shortly after Arnold’s death,” Flukinger says. “More than 120 boxes came in total, and we’re currently processing it and working with the material so that it will be accessible in the years ahead.”
Together, the archive and exhibition represent the first retrospective after Newman’s death. They also contain Newman’s earlier work, which has never been shown publicly. Viewers can see the evolution of his style and what became a dominant form of portraiture in the latter half of the 20th century: “environmental portraiture.” This style calls for the portrait to be executed in the subject’s usual environment.
“His work not only reflected the face of the subject but something of their character, spirit, and lifestyle,” Flukinger says.
Most portraiture of that era was done in a photographer’s studio. The subject sat in a chair in front of a backdrop with his face lit by the studio lights. “Newman didn’t do that,” Flukinger says. “He packed up his equipment, went to the subject’s residence or agreed-upon place to photograph them in an environment where the shot would work to their advantage.”
The reactions to the exhibit have been very positive, according to Flukinger. He says people felt as though this display revealed more about Newman, and they were able to experience individual connections with certain pictures. “When we laid it out, we tried to do it as an open gallery,” he says. “We wanted people to build their own juxtapositions and see something in it that they may not have seen before.”
Flukinger says the best exhibits are the ones that challenge the viewer to think more about what they’re seeing, and he hopes Arnold Newman: Masterclass does just that. “It’s called Masterclass for a reason,” he says. “At the end of his life, Arnold saw himself as a teacher, and I believe he’s trying to teach us to to look beyond the surface and know there’s more substance to both a photograph and a person.”
The exhibition, which runs through May 12, is free and open to the public. It can be viewed Tuesdays through Fridays, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., extending until 7 p.m. on Thursdays. The gallery is also open from noon to 5 p.m. on weekends.
This story originally appeared in the Alcalde.