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Photography Masters - Arnold Newman
Sunday Magazine

Photography Masters - Arnold Newman

Siddharth S. Kumar

Siddharth S. Kumar

Starting his career as a 49-cent portrait photographer, Arnold Newman, who later became a celebrated American photographer, was known for his ‘environmental portraiture’ approach. Born in New York in 1918, Newman had his first exhibition in a Manhattan gallery at the age of 23.

The uniqueness of his photos was that Newman captured his subjects in their own personal environments with representative visual elements showing their professions and personalities. Thus a musician was captured in the recording studio or on stage, or a politician in the office. A case in point was one of his best-known photographs, of composer Igor Stravinsky at his piano -- in which the lid of his grand piano forms a gargantuan musical note representative of the melodic structure of the composer's work. His environmental portraiture managed to evoke a sense of the person’s inner spirit by integrating careful composition and dynamic design. At the age of 27, his one-man exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art called Artists Look Like This, evoked considerable interest.

Soon he moved on to photographing iconic personalities of the world and became a globally known photographer. While working for magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Time, Look Life, Fortune, and Newsweek he photographed celebrities ranging from John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson to Pablo Picasso and Frank Lloyd Wright. A virtual Who’s Who of those times were Newman’s subjects: Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Max Ernst, Alfred Stieglitz, Arthur Miller, Harry S Truman, Georgia O’Keeffe…

Portrait of Russian composer & pianist Igor Stravinsky. Newman uses a rather interesting and unusual composition by placing the composer at the bottom left corner while the lid of the grand piano takes the center stage. He uses symmetry, shapes curves and lines to create a visually striking environmental portrait.
Portrait of Russian composer & pianist Igor Stravinsky. Newman uses a rather interesting and unusual composition by placing the composer at the bottom left corner while the lid of the grand piano takes the center stage. He uses symmetry, shapes curves and lines to create a visually striking environmental portrait.

There are numerous other publications which carried Newman, one of the world’s best-known portrait photographers of our time, recognized for his incredible ability to capture the spirit and personality of his subjects. These included: New York, Vanity Fair, Holiday, Esquire, Town and Country, Scientific American and New York Times Magazine.

The book, The Great British, that Newman made for London’s National Portrait Gallery carried 76 photographic portraits of eminent Britons. Many of his other portraits are collected in the books One Mind’s Eye, Faces USA, Artists: Portraits from Four Decades, Arnold Newman: Five Decades and Arnold Newman’s Americans. There was also a film about him, The Image Makers—the Environment of Arnold Newman.

Today his works are exhibited in major museums around the world including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Chicago Art Institute; The Los Angeles Museum of Art; The Philadelphia Museum; George East Museum in Rochester; The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington; The Tate and the National Portrait Gallery, London; The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; and many other prominent museums in Europe, Japan, South America, Australia, et al.

Portrait of Italian painter Pablo Picasso. Newman uses a wide-angle lens in this photograph to showcase the entire room containing Picasso’s artwork. While the first focal point of interest is Picasso himself, the eye slowly moves around the room exploring it. This photograph also uses strong shapes, depth and symmetrical elements to make it more aesthetically appealing.
Portrait of Italian painter Pablo Picasso. Newman uses a wide-angle lens in this photograph to showcase the entire room containing Picasso’s artwork. While the first focal point of interest is Picasso himself, the eye slowly moves around the room exploring it. This photograph also uses strong shapes, depth and symmetrical elements to make it more aesthetically appealing.

Besides nine honorary doctorates, Newman received major awards including The International Center of Photography, The Lucie Award, The Royal Photographic Society Centenary Award as well as France’s ‘Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters.’ In 2005, Photo District News named Newman as one of the 25 most influential living photographers. In 2006, Newman was awarded The Gold Medal for Photography by The National Arts Club.

Portrait of English actor & producer Hugh Grant. This photograph looks like it is out of a movie scene. Newman again uses the environment to tell a story however in this photo he uses a shallow depth of field and blurs out the parts which are not of interest like the background of the restaurant and empty chairs. By doing this, the key focus is on Grant and what he is doing. The opposite side of the table has an empty teacup while Grant’s cup is full as he looks down in deep thought. The story behind this is left to the imagination of the viewer.
Portrait of English actor & producer Hugh Grant. This photograph looks like it is out of a movie scene. Newman again uses the environment to tell a story however in this photo he uses a shallow depth of field and blurs out the parts which are not of interest like the background of the restaurant and empty chairs. By doing this, the key focus is on Grant and what he is doing. The opposite side of the table has an empty teacup while Grant’s cup is full as he looks down in deep thought. The story behind this is left to the imagination of the viewer.

Newman, recognized as the ‘Father of Environmental Portraiture’, passed away in 2006. It is perhaps apt to recall his own quote in the book, A Life in Photography, ‘As for myself, I work the way I do because of the kind of person that I am – my work is an expression of myself. It reflects me, my fascination with people, the physical world around us and the exciting medium in which I work. I do not claim that my way is the best or the only way, it is simply my way. It is an expression of myself, of the way I think and feel.’

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Siddharth Kumar, is the Co-Founder & Lead Photographer SIDART Photography, a professional photography venture focusing on weddings, portraiture and commercial photography. After an 8-year stint in an MNC, he decided to pursue his passion for photography and music. In 2019, he was awarded Certificate of Honorable Mention by International Photography Awards (IPA), Los Angeles. In 2014, he won the First Prize at the International Photography Competition organized by Mindshare Worldwide. He holds a Grade 8 Certificate in Piano Performance from Trinity College London.