May 2013



Arnold Newman, Alexander Calder, sculptor, New York, 1943 Gelatin silver print © Arnold Newman / Getty Images

Arnold Newman Comes to Austin

The magazine didn’t even run the picture. Harper’s Bazaar, which had commissioned the iconic portrait of Igor Stravinsky, the portrait which would become Arnold Newman’s most famous and most lucrative photograph, chose not to run it.

And there we stood, in Austin, looking not only at the portrait itself, but its siblings, contact sheets of several of the 4×5 negatives which had been rejected by the photographer in favor of this one, the one that Harper’s Bazaarhad chosen not to publish.

Our docent at the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas, repository of the Arnold Newman archives, was Margaret, an enthusiastic undergrad, an art education major, a photographer. Margaret had all the “back stories” that go with the photographs displayed in the exhibition, MASTERCLASS, Arnold Newman, on display at the center until May 12.

It is through the succession of 4×5 negatives that we get a feel for Newman’s process when in the company of his sitters. A pose one way, then another, wife in, wife out, hands up, hands down, until … whenever. He didn’t shoot until he “had the right one.” He shot until he had enough. And then later, through an exercise of cropping and rotating, Newman found the image within one of the negatives that he would print.



Born in 1918 in New York, Newman learned early in life how it felt to be poor. Although his father owned a clothing manufacturing company, the business suffered a big loss at the end of World War I, when the Navy failed to pay for a large order of uniforms due to the arrival of the Armistice. The Depression forced the sale of the company, and Isidore moved the family to Atlantic City, where he ran a small hotel, and later to Miami Beach.

“We were literally penniless, particularly when the banks closed down. So I still have that Depression psychology.”

An art scholarship saw him to the University of Miami, but after two years there, the Depression forced him to quit and go to work.

And that is where the story begins.

Because Arnold Newman went to work in the photo studio at the Lit Brothers Department Store in Philadelphia.

And in that hot-bed of creativity, he made portraits of from sixty to seventy subjects a day, earning the department store forty-nine cents per photograph. Consistency was the key, because the more consistent the negatives, the less work required in order to print them. Raising and lowering the enlarger head was apparently considered unreasonable work.

“I was thrown to the wolves. The next person would come in, smile, Bam! Next, smile, Bam! … and out … I had to learn very quickly how to adapt to people, how to get them to adjust to the camera. But the experience was fantastic!”

We would expect an experience in consistency, portrait after portrait after portrait, to drive the young artist away from the medium altogether. After all, he was a painting major in college. But according to Margaret, it steeled his resolve, after borrowing his uncle’s camera, to make portraits the way he wanted to make portraits, the way he felt portraits should be made, portraits which revealed something about the subject.

He had studied the documentary photographs produced under the auspices of the Farm Security Administration. In one of the books, Newman came upon two photographs of Teddy Roosevelt, one stiff, posed, and formal. The second portrayed Roosevelt, “with a foot on a rhino he’d just shot … grinning like hell, his hands on his hip with a gun … suddenly the man came alive. I knew the pictures I wanted to do.”

The pictures he did number in excess of eight thousand, and two hundred plus of those are on display in Austin. Companion display cases house ancillary materials – his hand-designed calendar, his “sitting book,” magazine covers, and a beautiful little Meridian 45B camera.

The “sitting book” is a Newman-compiled directory to every negative he produced from 1936 until his death in 2006. Its first entry is “Mom and Dad.” Pages eight and nine cover negatives numbered 265 through 690 taken during the years 1940 and 41. Number 453 is listed as “confused head of baby,” 479-484 “junk abstracts,” and after his move to New York in September 1941, he kicked things up a notch. Negatives 626-630 are of artist Charles Burchfield, 655 and 657 of Beaumont Newhall, 673-682 of John Sloan, and 683-690 of Fernand Leger.

In an effort to make sure he left nothing out, there are entries for “Newman, A & A, Wedding,” commemorating his union with Augusta Rubenstein, as well as posts denoting the births of his sons, Eric in 1950 and David in 1952.

Everybody who was anybody sat for Arnold Newman. To his surprise, it was the cooperation and encouragement of the artists themselves who made his life’s work possible.



“It was with a great deal of satisfaction that I found all of them interested in photography, not just momentary curiosity, but seeing it as a creative medium.”

He preferred to visit his subjects in their living / working spaces one or two days prior to the portrait session, to get a feel for the space, the lighting, the props. That gave him time to design scenarios which would bring out the extra he sought in his sitters. However, his pre-conceived designs served only as starting points. Because once in front of his subject, he often dropped something on the floor, or had to hunt for his light meter, or needed a gizmo he forgot to bring along … all to give the subject time to settle in, get comfortable, and lose the typical pre-exposure edginess. Then he went to work, often shooting forty to fifty negatives before feeling as if he had enough.

I should have said, “Almost everybody who was anybody sat for Arnold Newman.” Everybody but Marilyn. He made appointments. She cancelled. He made appointments. She cancelled. He considered her to be the one who got away.

But she did not leave him entirely empty-handed. Newman was invited to a party which included featured guests Marilyn Monroe and Carl Sandburg. He carried a 35 millimeter camera with him and shot several rolls of party pictures. From one of the negatives, cropped and then enlarged so much that it is a study in grain, he got his portrait. However, it’s not really a Newman portrait. There is no transaction between photographer and subject. And that was important to Newman, the transaction. A photographic agreement. Marilyn was only a snapshot.

Newman photographed for Life magazine, Seventeen, Time, Sports Illustrated, Look, and Newsweek, among others, and made a trip to Africa on behalf of Holiday. But he never went to work for any of them. To do so would mean giving up ownership of his portraits, although it would likely mean three times as much income as he was making independently.

And then Newsweek wanted him to go to Germany to make a photograph of Alfred Krupp. Krupp, a wealthy industrialist, had been convicted of war crimes at the Nuremburg trials for employing slave labor, particularly Jewish slave labor, at munitions factories during the war. Newman, Jewish, answered Newsweek, “Hell no, I won’t go.” But he did go. He had a date with a man he considered to be the devil. And he had to make a portrait.

But he didn’t have to make a pretty one.

Newman positioned Krupp in front of and above the factory floor, so that the business of manufacturing can be seen going on in the background. Because Newman was backed up against a wall, the lighting was positioned on both sides, from the left and the right of Krupp.

“I said, ‘Herr Krupp, would you mind leaning towards me?’ And [when] he leaned forward – my hair stood on end. He was in my photograph.”



When Herr Krupp leaned forward, his face moved out of the lights Newman had placed at the side. Out of the lights and into shadow, into the darkness. It was a portrait of the devil.

The exhibition MASTERCLASS borders upon being too much. It’s hard to take the whole thing in during one visit. It is a visual overload. But I can’t imagine anyone going away feeling under-fed. Just consider … Stieglitz, Mondrian, Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, Dali, Picasso, Max Ernst, the presidents, S. Dillon Ripley, Ayn Rand, Robert Oppenheimer, Yasser Arafat (that session made Newman nervous), Tony Randall as Captain Cook, and Otto Frank in the attic in which he and his family hid. And that’s just for starters.

Treat yourself to a bonus! Docent-led tours are available at noon on Tuesdays and at 2:00 Saturday and Sunday afternoons. If you are really lucky, you may get Margaret.


Two publications accompany the exhibition.

MASTERCLASS Arnold Newman is by William A. Ewing, who curated the exhibition. Ewing served as Director of the Musee de l’Elysee in Lausanne from 1996 to 2010. Contributing writers are Todd Brandow, Director of the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography, based in Minneapolis and Lausanne; Arthur Ollman, Professor at San Diego State University and Director of the Museum of Photographic Arts from 1983 until 2005; David Coleman, Director of the Witliff Collections, Texas State University, and former Curator of Photography at the Harry Ransom Center, instrumental in establishing the Newman Archive; and Corinne Currat, Assistant Curator at the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography. MASTERCLASS includes 210 illustrations, 22 in color. It is published by Thames and Hudson.

Arnold Newman At Work is published by the Harry Ransom Center of the University of Texas. It is by Roy Flukinger, Senior Research Curator of Photography at the center, and written by Marianne Fulton, formerly senior curator of photography, chief curator, and acting director of the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film in Rochester.

When the exhibition leaves Austin, it will travel to the Museum of Art in San Diego for a run from June to September, 2013.