Eve Arnold: In Retrospect
'Eve Arnold: In Retrospect' was at the Gallery of Photography, Dublin, 12 December - 31 January, 1998
Review by Lynsey Muir
Eve Arnold was born in Philadelphia and took up photography in 1950. One of the most famous practitioners of her generation, her latest exhibition is called Eve Arnold: In Retrospect and is based on work published in the book of the same name. The exhibition consists of nearly two hundred photographs, a small fraction of the thousands taken over the last forty seven years.
The images Arnold makes are primarily portraits, and as far as portraits go these are possibly the best I have seen. She has photographed a variety of high profile figures, ranging from celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Clark Gable, and Joan Crawford to political leaders as varied as Joe McCarthy, Malcolm X and Margaret Thatcher.
Arnold seems to have an endless fascination for life around her which she often portrays with wit and humour. She did not concentrate solely on celebrities however but also photographed painters, writers, musicians, actors, tourists and teenagers; indeed anyone who caught her imagination. Arnold herself describes the direction she has chosen as an inquiry into: "...the lives of people: The mundane, the quotidian and the celebrated". Neither has she restricted herself to America and the exhibition contains a number of photographs taken from her travels around the world on assignment with The Sunday Times and Life magazines.
What is special about Arnold's portraits is that they are not set-up or engineered. All are captured in the moment and Arnold appears to have the ability to relax her subjects to the point where they are completely at ease. As a result the photographs that she produces capture very private and intimate moments.
It is for this reason that I find the most striking images on show to be those of Marilyn Monroe, especially Marilyn Monroe - Airport Ladies Room, Chicago 1955! Arnold was introduced to Monroe at a party when both women were at the beginning of their careers. This meeting marked the beginning of a friendship between the two, and resulted in an extended series of photographs of Marilyn Monroe - a project that lasted for ten years. Unfortunately the exhibition only hints at the depth of their relationship. I personally would love to see more of these portraits.
The photographs of Monroe show a depth of understanding between photographer and subject that is rare. Arnold captures moments where Monroe seems to be completely oblivious to the presence of a camera around her. These photographs often manage to mingle her vulnerability, loneliness and her sex appeal all in the same frame. Arnold shows us another side to Monroe, the star as a real person, with feelings, thoughts and fears just like everyone else. This major retrospective exhibition is not to be missed. Arnold's collection of photograph's is of great historical significance but perhaps the most unique and commendable quality of her work is the unobtrusive, sensitive way in which she uses her camera, a quality rare in photo-journalism. In more recent times we have become increasingly aware of the extremely obtrusive and insensitive methods that photo-journalists employ to get the photographs they want.
Even if Arnold's style is not to your liking, this exhibition is still worth a visit. A lot can be learned from Eve Arnold's photographs.