The eye be­hind the cam­era

The Washington Post Sunday - - BOOK WORLD - BY SARAH ARCHER bookworld@wash­ Sarah Archer is a writer and cu­ra­tor who lives in Philadel­phia. For all The Post’s book cov­er­age, go to wash­ing­ton­

Chances are, you’re more familiar with Eve Arnold’s pho­to­graphs than you are with the pho­tog­ra­pher her­self, who died at the age of 99 in 2012. Arnold’s images, pub­lished in an ar­ray of leg­endary pe­ri­od­i­cals in­clud­ing Life and Lon­don’s Sun­day Times, cap­tured the big per­son­al­i­ties of her day in mo­ments of re­flec­tion and un­guarded re­pose. Joan Craw­ford re­ceives spa treat­ments and gets fit­ted for a new dress; Mal­colm X re­clines with his hands cradling the back of his head; Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe ap­plies makeup in a bath­room mir­ror; El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor and Richard Bur­ton re­lax at a pub in Shep­per­ton, Eng­land, en­joy­ing a respite from Bur­ton’s work on the set of “Becket.” Arnold trav­eled on as­sign­ment to China, Rus­sia, South Africa and Afghanistan, pho­tograph­ing wed­dings, hos­pi­tals, pic­nics, schools and street scenes. Over the course of her ca­reer, she was awarded the Or­der of the Bri­tish Em­pire, named a mas­ter pho­tog­ra­pher by the In­ter­na­tional Cen­ter of Photography in New York, and given a life­time achieve­ment award by the Amer­i­can So­ci­ety of Mag­a­zine Pho­tog­ra­phers. You’ve seen many of Arnold’s images be­fore, but you might not know that the woman who shot them was a Long Is­land house­wife un­til she took her first photography class at the age of 38 in 1950. Ev­i­dently, it was some class. Eve Co­hen was born in Philadel­phia in 1912, the fifth of 10 chil­dren of Ukrainian im­mi­grants who spoke lit­tle English and strug­gled to make a life for their fam­ily in the United States. Cu­ri­ous and in­de­pen­dent from an early age, Eve ex­plored her neigh­bor­hood, which she called “strange and tum­ble­down,” and rel­ished Satur­days at the lo­cal movie house. Be­tween movie scenes and street scenes, she was tak­ing in both the posh fan­tasies of 1920s Hol­ly­wood and the gritty re­al­ity of Philadel­phia’s work­ing poor. Both were full of sto­ries, and that du­al­ity of glam­our and strug­gle ul­ti­mately char­ac­ter­ized the breadth of her work as a pho­to­jour­nal­ist.

As a young woman, she took pre-med classes at night while work­ing as a book­keeper by day, but in 1943 she felt called to move to New York City. It was there that she took a rather quo­tid­ian job that pre­pared her for a ca­reer she hadn’t en­vi­sioned. She be­came a su­per­vi­sor at Stanbi Pho­tos in Hobo­ken, N. J., a large pro­cess­ing plant where she cut and in­spected pic­tures, su­per­vised male col­leagues and learned the tech­ni­cal skills nec­es­sary to process film and print pho­to­graphs.

Af­ter mar­ry­ing industrial designer Arnold Arnold and giv­ing birth to a son, she lived the life of a post­war Long Is­land wife and mother un­til un­der­go­ing her first and only for­mal in­struc­tion in photography. Her six-week class at the New School for So­cial Re­search was taught by renowned Harper’s Bazaar art direc­tor Alexey Brodovitch. Arnold’s fi­nal project for the class was a port­fo­lio of images she shot at a Har­lem fash­ion show that de­picted mod­els mak­ing their pre-show prepa­ra­tions with un­self­con­scious ease. In that se­ries, Arnold cap­tured the rarely seen “staff only” side of a public spec­ta­cle, a point of view that be­came her trade­mark. Per­haps due to her per­sis­tence and will­ing­ness to travel far, work long hours and ven­ture into parts un­known, or be­cause she was pe­tite, fe­male and phys­i­cally un­threat­en­ing, she de­vel­oped a rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing able to take pic­tures that no one else could. She would seem to dis­ap­pear and, do­ing so, to let her sub­jects be them­selves.

Mag­num Pho­tos, an in­ter­na­tional co­op­er­a­tive that Arnold joined in 1951, was founded in Paris in 1947 by a group of now-leg­endary pho­to­jour­nal­ists in­clud­ing Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bres­son. Its mem­bers owned the copy­rights to their work, giv­ing them great au­ton­omy and al­low­ing them to pub­lish in a wide va­ri­ety of out­lets. Un­like many of the swash­buck­ling found­ing mem­bers, who’d made their names doc­u­ment­ing the Span­ish Civil War and World War II, Arnold was an ex­pert on the do­mes­tic and the in­ti­mate. Though she had been driven to move to New York alone and had mar­ried late (at age 36) for some­one of her gen­er­a­tion, she was also a neigh­bor­hood girl from a large fam­ily who ob­served hu­man in­ter­ac­tions on a small scale. She used that ap­proach for the movie stars she grew to know well over the years and for to­tal strangers in far-flung lo­cales.

Arnold pub­lished nu­mer­ous vol­umes of her work over the years, and there are sev­eral an­tholo­gies of her pho­to­graphs by oth­ers, but this new book is dif­fer­ent be­cause, along­side the pho­tog­ra­pher’s in­deli­ble images, Ja­nine di Gio­vanni has in­serted high­lights from her sub­ject’s note­books, let­ters and metic­u­lously de­tailed in­dex cards. Re­cently ac­quired by Yale’s Bei­necke Rare Book & Manuscript Li­brary, the doc­u­ments flesh out the fa­mously pri­vate Arnold’s cre­ative process in ways that are both inspiring and fas­ci­nat­ing. She shot her images pri­mar­ily with nat­u­ral light us­ing a Pen­tax cam­era, and her vo­lu­mi­nous con­tact sheets cat­a­logue the nearly 750,000 pho­to­graphs she took dur­ing her ca­reer.

The book isn’t rich in anal­y­sis and doesn’t at­tempt to place Arnold within any larger con­text be­yond the world of Mag­num Pho­tos and the vis­ual land­scape of her own work. But the chance to glimpse some of her best pho­to­graphs along­side the hand­writ­ten notes, typed in­dex cards and marked-up con­tact sheets that re­veal her own re­ac­tions to (and opin­ions of) her images con­trib­utes some­thing new and valu­able to her unique and highly orig­i­nal le­gacy.



Joan Craw­ford, top, was one of many Hol­ly­wood stars pho­tographed by Eve Arnold, shown above in a 1999 photo, dur­ing her long ca­reer.

EVE ARNOLD Mag­num Le­gacy By Ja­nine di Gio­vanni Pres­tel. 191 pp. $49.95

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