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Posted on October 07, 2014

Arnold NewmanA portrait captures more than just a person. That lesson will be reinforced to anyone visiting the new exhibit, Arnold Newman: Masterclass, running from Oct. 23, 2014 to Feb. 1, 2015 at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum. Over seven decades, Newman created a vast and celebrated body of work, photographing fine artists and pop celebrities in a style that continues to influence portraiture.

“Newman was a famous photographer and had lots of shows during his lifetime and at least one major book every decade,” explains William Ewing, the curator of the show who worked with the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography and Harry Ransom Center to decide what to include in this, the first major exhibit since the photographer’s death in 2006. “The question for us was, ‘what is something we can do that’s new?’”

Plenty, it turned out. While Newman’s most famous portraits — Pablo Picasso, Marilyn Monroe, Igor Stravinsky — have been widely shown, Ewing found an abundance of unpublished material that shed light on the photographer and his process. These include group photos and alternate takes on some of Newman’s best-known works. The curator aimed for about half new material, half works that had been previously released.

It’s this variety that Ewing feels makes Newman’s work exceptional Capturing his subjects in their personal spaces provides a “psychological aspect” to the images — placing the viewer in Salvatore Dali’s studio, or Paul Auster’s cluttered office — but also required Newman to improvise depending on the individual. “Artists like Irving Penn and Richard Avedon are great portraitists, but always take the same approach to their subject matter,” says Ewing. “Arnold Newman, whenever he went out, took a risk.”

To further explore Newman’s process, the show includes many of his work prints, pinned to the wall as if visitors have entered the photographer’s own studio.

“You will see in these pictures that he has drawn many different frames on one picture, moving it very subtly,” says Ewing. “He composes the picture like it’s a painting.”

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