Arnold Newman: Masterclass is on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco until February 1, 2015. The retrospective exhibition includes 200 of Newman’s most famous portraits, as well as rarely and never-before exhibited still lives, architectural studies, cityscapes and early portraits.
Based mostly in New York, Newman was one of the world’s best known and most influential photographers. He worked as a freelancer for Life and other magazines and traveled the world to photograph artists, architects, authors, composers, scientists, fellow photographers and politicians. Newman found his vision in the empathy he felt for artists and their work, and his photographs demonstrate complex layers of emotional, psychological and cultural significance. In a press release about the exhibit, the Contemporary Jewish Museum wrote that “Artists delighted in sitting for Newman, knowing that he would find a way to convey their sensibility in a forceful, yet always appropriate, fashion.”
Newman created powerful studio shots, as exemplified by his famous portrait of Pablo Picasso in Vallaurise, France, 1954 (above, left).
His signature style, however, was ‘environmental portraiture,’ in which he captured the essence of his subjects by showing them in their personal surroundings using strong, graphic, black and white imagery to give insight into what made his subjects so successful.
“Every artist is a different human being, a different kind of person, a different kind of personality, a different kind of psyche, and all of this the photographer should reflect,” Newman is quoted as saying in the exhibition catalog. The surroundings had to add to the composition and the understanding of the person.
Newman was a master at composition and was meticulous about his work. In the beautiful, black and white portrait of Russian Composer Igor Stravinsky (above), the composer was seated at a grand piano which was strategically silhouetted against a blank wall to create the illusion of the lid as an abstract musical note.
“Whenever I want to photograph someone, I read about them. I read biographies. If they are painters or scientists, I know their work. This is all good. It prepares me to observe.” – Arnold Newman
Newman’s work can be found in major museums and private collections worldwide. The Contemporary Jewish Museum, 736 Mission Street, San Francisco is open Thursday – Tuesday (closed Wednesdays) 415-655-7800