“What do you hang on the walls of your mind?” are the words of Eve Arnold printed opposite a blank page in the opening sequence to Janine di Giovann’s illustrated biography bearing her name, the first volume published in the Magnum Legacy series published by Prestel.
Brilliantly edited, elegantly sequenced, and beautifully produced, Arnold’s photographs shimmer like pools on the page, taking us back to a time and a place that remind us of the power of photography to define the look and feel of the times, particularly by those whose work was seen far and wide in newspapers and picture magazines at a time when circulation was at record highs worldwide. There is a heroism that belies the quiet grandeur of Eve Arnold’s work, perhaps one that recalls nothing so much as the photographer herself.
Born Eve Cohen in 1912 in Philadelphia, PA, she was the fifth of ten children to Russian-Jewish immigrants who had fled the pogroms in the Ukraine at the turn of the century, only to find themselves living in poverty. Her archive at Yale Library’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library is oddly devoid of information about her early life, and we only begin to know the story of her life after she picked up the camera to take photographs, beginning in 1946.
In 1948, while studying with Harper’s Bazaar art director Alexey Brodovitch at the New School for Social Research in New York, she married industrial designer Arnold Arnold and gave birth to son Frank. Eve Arnold joined Magnum Photos in the 1950s, working alongside Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson, and stayed active until 1997, when she was 85 years old.
Eve Arnold: Magnum Legacy presents the crème de la crème from an archive as vast as it is deep, a veritable ocean of images that continue to resonate with power and intensity. Arnold’s photographs are soulful portraits, each brimming with life, each drawing us through the looking glass so that we are at home with figures as disparate as Joan Crawford and Malcolm X. Arnold photographed everyone with a curiosity that makes us wonder about the woman herself, the woman who captured all personalities and types under the sun, from the likes of Joseph McCarthy to Marilyn Monroe.
Eve Arnold is an exciting, in-depth account of her life’s work, told through the lenswoman and those closest to her. Elliott Erwitt remembers that when Arnold first joined Magnum in 1951 at the age of 39, “She was essentially a homemaker—a Long Island housewife and mother living in the village of Port Jefferson baking very good cookies.”
A year later, she got her first assignment, to shoot Marlene Dietrich during a recording session at Columbia Records. Arnold was intimidated, but worked all night alongside the star, recalling that Deitrich worked, “like a ditch digger…from midnight when she arrived until six in the morning.” Reprinted widely, the story drew equal attention to the photographer herself, whose career took off soon thereafter, being sent to Jamaica to photograph Queen Elizabeth II.
As opportunities grew, Arnold came into her own, photographing the likes of movie stars, musicians, politicians, and writers. Yet Arnold did not betray her roots, and documented those living in poverty, the migrant workers, and the prisoners. Arnold’s sensibilities were extraordinarily adept and she bore witness to the emerging currents and trends of the times. It is how her photographs are so easily etched into the corners of our minds. Eve Arnold offers an incredible wealth of insight and understanding into the world of the woman herself, bringing us behind the photographs and into the mind of one of the medium’s finest to ever exist.