Remembering Eve Arnold, Pioneering Photojournalist

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)

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