Eve Arnold, one of the pioneering women of photojournalism, died Wednesday at the age of 99.
Widely known for her photographs of Marilyn Monroe and other celebrities, Arnold just as often photographed the poor and the unknown. “I don’t see anybody as either ordinary or extraordinary,” she told the BBC in 1990. “I see them simply as people in front of my lens.”
Born Eve Cohen in Philadelphia on April 21, 1912, she was one of nine children of Ukrainian immigrant parents. When she was 28 years old she gave up plans to become a doctor after a boyfriend gave her a camera. She studied photography for a brief time under Alexey Brodovitch at the New School for Social Research before going out on her own and finding her style.
“I didn’t work in a studio, I didn’t light anything,” Arnold would later say. “I found a way of working which pleased me because I didn’t have to frighten people with heavy equipment. It was that little black box and me.”
A series of photographs Arnold took of fashion shows in Harlem attracted the attention of Henri Cartier-Bresson, one of the founders of Magnum Photos, and she was invited to contribute to the agency. In 1957 Arnold became the first woman photographer to join Magnum as a full member. She worked often for Life and later, after moving to England in 1961, for The Sunday Times Magazine, traveling to places like Afghanistan, South Africa, Mongolia and Cuba while always maintaining a personal point of view. In her 1976 book, The Unretouched Woman, Arnold wrote:
Themes recur again and again in my work. I have been poor and I wanted to document poverty; I had lost a child and I was obsessed with birth; I was interested in politics and I wanted to know how it affected our lives; I am a woman and I wanted to know about women.
Arnold published 15 books in her lifetime, including the National Book Award-winning In China. In 2003 she was awarded the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elisabeth II, whom she had once photographed. In the 2007 book Magnum Magnum, photographer Elliott Erwitt summed things up:
Eve Arnold’s legacy is as varied as it is fascinating. It is hard to fathom how one person’s work can be so diverse. I covers the humblest to the most exalted, the meanest to the kindest, and everything in between. The subjects are all there in Eve Arnold’s photographs and they are treated with intelligence, consideration and sympathy. Most important is Eve’s ability to visually communicate her concerns directly, without fanfare or pretense, in the best humanistic tradition.
Eve Arnold on the set of Beckett, 1963, by Robert Penn. (© Copyright Eve Arnold/Magnum Photos)