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A Masterclass in Portraiture at the CJM: Arnold Newman

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Arnold Newman, Self‐portrait, Philadelphia, 1938. Gelatin silver print © 1938, 14 ¾ x 16 ¾ in. Arnold Newman/Getty ImagesAs one of the most influential portrait photographers of the twentieth century, Arnold Newman (1918–2006) created iconic images of some of the most prominent cultural figures of his time. Arnold Newman: Masterclass, on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, presents seven decades of work and more than 200 images by this photographer—many works famous for both portrait and sitter, many never exhibited before.

At the entrance to this retrospective, there are short biographies of Newman’s subjects. Fitting, because his portraits are not simply likenesses; Newman’s portraits reveal biographies—environment, interests, collections, life works, musings and personalities-. Arnold Newman preferred photographing his subjects in their own environments, using natural light. It challenged him to have to make quick decisions about what he saw—chance juxtapositions, works in progress, personal collections, even clutter.

Robert Doisneau

Newman’s compositions are bold and striking. His pictures eloquently express the geometry of space through the contrast of black and white. It’s interesting to see his test prints on view, showing various cropping possibilities that reveal his process and attention to detail: the shot of Igor Stravinski (1946) is a brilliant example of how Newman’s choice of crop dramatically transforms an image.

Walking through the gallery, I wanted to step into some of the pictures: Ansel Adams (1976) standing by his darkroom, proudly smiling. Georgia O’Keefe (1968) venerable, outside her desert home. Edward Steichen (1955) deep in thought. Max Ernst (1942) in a waft of smoke, and that subtly surrealist home decor. Claes Oldenberg (1967) with sketches and works in progress strewn all over his apartment. Charles Eames (1974), wow. I have my favorites; I invite you to discover yours.

Arnold Newman: Masterclass, on view at the Contemporary Jewish Museum through February 1, 2015.

Images above:
(left) Arnold Newman, Selfportrait, Philadelphia, 1938. Gelatin silver print © 1938, 14 ¾ x 16 ¾ in. Arnold Newman/Getty Images.

(right) Arnold Newman, Robert Doisneau, photographer, New York, 1981. Gelatin silver print © 1981, 21 1/16 x 17 15/16 in. Arnold Newman/Getty Images. 

Marcel Duchamp

Arnold Newman, Marcel Duchamp, painter and sculptor, New York, 1942. Gelatin silver print © 1942, 28 1/8 x 22 5/8 in. Arnold Newman/Getty Images.

Igor Stravinsky,

Arnold Newman, Igor Stravinsky, composer and conductor, New York , 1946. Gelatin silver print © 1946, 17 15/16 x 21 1/16 in. Arnold Newman/Getty Images. 

Arnold Newman, Georgia O’Keeffe, painter, Ghost Ranch, New Mexico , 1968 Gelatin silver print © 1968, 22 5/8 x 28 1/8 in. Arnold Newman/Getty Images. 

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