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Portrait Photographer Arnold Newman dies at 88

by Daryl Lang


Arnold Newman, a deeply influential photographer who spent a lifetime capturing penetrating images of artists, entertainers and presidents, has died at age 88.

He died on June 6th, 2006, of a heart attack at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, according to his son, David Newman.

Self portrait, 1979  

Among his most famous photos are a close-up portrait of Pablo Picasso in 1954 resting his head against his hand and gazing intensely forward, and a crisp, slightly abstract image of composer Igor Stravinsky at a grand piano in 1966.

"We don't take pictures with our cameras," Newman once said. "We take them with our hearts and we take them with our minds, and the camera is nothing more than a tool."

Pablo Picasso
Vallauris, France, 1954
Igor Stravinsky studying score
New York, 1966


Born in 1918 in New York, Newman studied art at the University of Miami at Coral Gables, but the Depression hit and he was forced to leave school for financial reasons. He moved to Philadelphia, where he took a job at a portrait studio and learned photography. His early career was influenced by photographs of everyday people taken by photographers for the Farm Security Administration, particularly Walker Evans.

By 1945, Newman had moved to New York. He made his name working as a freelance photographer for LIFE, Harper's Bazaar, Look, Fortune and many other magazines. His 1946 image of Stravinsky was originally rejected by Harper's Bazaar, but later became one of his best-selling and most lucrative images.

He continued shooting pictures well into the 21st century, capturing presidents from Harry S. Truman to Bill Clinton and many influential figures in the world of art and entertainment.

He advanced the art of the portrait with his careful compositions made in the settings where his subjects worked. The style came to be known as environmental portraiture, but Newman resisted labels.

"I see myself simply as a photographer who works in portraits, abstractions, still lifes or whatever. Therefore I use the word 'portrait' in an all-inclusive generic sense, without limitations," Newman said in a 2002 interview with PDN.


Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank.
Anne Frank House, Amsterdam, The Netherlands, 1960

Isaac Asimov science fiction writer.
New York, 1990.


Newman's work was celebrated throughout his life, including several recent books, exhibitions and awards. In 1999 his work was exhibited at the International Center for Photography and he was awarded an ICP Infinity Award. In 2000 he was the subject of an exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art and a book titled Breaking Ground. In 2004 he won a Lucie Award for Outstanding Achievement in Portraiture. Just last month, he briefly checked himself out of the hospital to receive a medal at the National Arts Club in New York.

Arnold's friends remembered his passion for photography all the way to his last days.

"Every photographer was influenced by him, either by the fact that they wanted to be like him or they wanted to be nothing like him," said photographer Jay Maisel.

"Arnold was one of the dearest men I know," said photographer Barbara Bordnick. "I teach portraiture. I couldn't imagine teaching portraiture without his books."

Greg Booth, a Dallas photographer who once worked as Newman's assistant, said he recently visited Newman in the hospital and brought along a point-and-shoot digital camera. "He immediately would grab it and start taking photographs of me," Booth said. "All of a sudden he was a kid again."

Newman is survived by his wife of 57 years, Augustus, two sons, David and Eric, and four grandchildren.

Daryl Lang
2006 © Photo District News