FORMER BOYFRIENDS HAVE a tendency either to fade into the mind‘s ‘ex‘ archive or to remain in focus. The ‘beau’ who in post-war New York gave Eve Arnold her first camera and a few lessons on how to use it. has understandably secured life-time significance.
Now in her sixties. Arnold is one of the world‘s most famous photographers. A retrospective of her acclaimed work is coming to Edinburgh‘s National Portrait Gallery.
‘Everything seemed to fall into place. seemed destined. even though that sounds eorny.’ she says of her career.
And what a destiny. Joan Crawford in her corsets. Marilyn Monroe preening herself with her dress hitched-up in an airport ladies’ room. Andy Warhol weight-training. Russian political prisoners in a psychiatric hospital and girls in spit and sawdust brothels. Arnold has snapped them all — icons and idols through to anonymous down and outs at the butt-end of society.
Born into a none-too-wealthy Russian Jewish family in Philadelphia. Arnold‘s training involved just one six-week photography course in New York. Fuelled by what she calls her ‘insatiable curiosity‘. she went where photographers in the 50s rarely strayed — Harlem church halls. Cuban asylums, New York labour wards.
‘The job of the photographer is to show people what they wouldn‘t see had a photographer not been there.‘ she says.
Arnold‘s work got her noticed. Her series of photographs on Harlem‘s black fashion world was published by Britain‘s Picture Post and in l952. it secured her as the first woman
‘People say Malcolm X wouldn't let anyone near him, but I've gotthe photographs to prove he Eve Arnold
member of the New York branch of Magnum — the French photographers‘ co-operation founded by Cartier—Bresson and Robert Capa.
It was tough at times in a male-dominated world where Arnold had no time for the label ‘woman photographer'. She was a photogra- pher who happened to be female and was determined to forge her own style. ‘1 had to dc\elop a personal approach to photography.‘ she says. ‘lfl look back at it honestly. I had no preconceived ideas. but what I wanted to do was to work naturally with people. It was appreciated that you considered them first and it wasn‘t a case of my ego.‘
Tactical manoeuvres. if not intense diplomacy. got Arnold pictures of people often considered off-limits. In the early (30s. Arnold suggested to Life magazine that she photograph black American Muslim leader Malcolm X and his supporters at work. Life‘s retort was that the shots would look as if they were taken in Africa. Arnold argued back. convinced the editor and went on to photograph Malcolm X for more than two years on the campaigning circuit.
‘People say Malcolm X wouldn‘t let anyone near him. but I‘ve got the photographs to prove he did.‘ she says.
Another relationship that Arnold struck tip was with Marilyn Monroe. ‘We were two young women starting out.‘ says the photographer. "l‘he fact we didn‘t know much about our profession and what we were doing was a bond.‘
Arnold found Monroe extraordinary to photograph — the screen goddess melted from
Marilyn Monroe in the aiport ladies’ room. Chicago 1955
one pose to the other with complete ease.
These days Arnold lives in London and is still at work. To celebrate the 50m birthday of Magnum. she is off once more to Cuba to photograph a 5()-year~old who she last photographed when she was eight. Quite a career. quite a time span.
Eve Arnold: In Retrospect is at the National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh, Fri 12 Sep-Sun 16 Nov.
12—25 Sept 1997 THE ""19