04
May
13

Exhibition: ‘Arnold Newman: Masterclass’ at the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Exhibition dates: 12th February – 12th May 2013

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Many thankx to the Harry Ransom Center for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

View the Arnold Newman: Masterclass video (50mins 30secs)

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Installation views of the exhibition 'Arnold Newman: Masterclass' at the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Installation views of the exhibition 'Arnold Newman: Masterclass' at the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

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Installation views of Arnold Newman: Masterclass at the Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin
Photos by Pete Smith
Images courtesy of Harry Ransom Center

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Arnold Newman. 'Dr. Edwin H. Land with group of Polaroid Employees, Polaroid warehouse in Needham, Mass.,' 1977

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Arnold Newman
Dr. Edwin H. Land with group of Polaroid Employees, Polaroid warehouse in Needham, Mass.,
1977
Gelatin silver print
© 1977 Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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Arnold Newman. 'Truman Capote, writer, New York' 1977

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Arnold Newman
Truman Capote, writer, New York
1977
Gelatin silver print
© Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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“The thing is, with Penn or Avedon, they control totally the situation in the studio, and I’m always taking a chance, wherever I go.”

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“What’s the truth in a portrait? Who do you believe? Sometimes you cannot determine this in just one picture… The only way to determine whether you believe it or not is to look at my other pictures.”

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“Form, feeling … structure and detail … technique and sensibility: it must all come together.”

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Arnold Newman

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Arnold Newman: Masterclass, the first posthumous retrospective of Arnold Newman (1918-2006), explores the career of one of the finest portrait photographers of the 20th century. The Harry Ransom Center, which holds the Arnold Newman archive, hosts the exhibition’s first U.S. showing February 12 – May 12, 2013.

The show, curated by FEP’s William Ewing, highlights 200 framed vintage prints covering Newman’s career, selected from the Arnold and Augusta Newman Foundation and the collections of major American museums and private collectors. Twenty-eight photographs from the Ransom Center’s Newman archive are featured in the exhibition.

“This retrospective is a real occasion for a reappraisal,” said Todd Brandow, founding director of FEP. “Newman was a great teacher, and he loved sharing his knowledge. It was these ‘lessons’ that led us to the concept of ‘Masterclass,’ the idea that, even posthumously, Newman could go on teaching all of us – whether connoisseurs or neophytes – a great deal.”

A bold modernist with a superb sense of compositional geometry, Newman, called the father of ‘environmental portraiture,’ is known for a crisp, spare style that placed his subjects in the context of their work environments. The exhibition includes work prints, prints with crop marks, rough prints with printing instructions and variants that reveal Newman’s process and attention to detail. “For me the professional studio is a sterile world,” said Newman in a 1991 interview. “I need to get out: Be with people where they’re at home. I can’t photograph ‘the soul,’ but I can show and tell you something fundamental about them.”

“Newman was never comfortable with the environmental term, and the backgrounds of Newman’s portraits would never be secondary aspects of his compositions,” said Ewing. “He had a masterful command of both sitter and setting.”

His subjects included world leaders, authors, artists, musicians and scientists – Pablo Picasso in his studio; Igor Stravinsky sitting at the piano; Truman Capote lounging on his sofa; and Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, in the attic where his family hid from the Nazis for more than two years.

The exhibition takes stock of the entire range of Newman’s photographic art, showing many fine prints for the first time. The exhibition also includes Newman’s lesser-known and rarely exhibited still lifes, architectural studies, cityscapes and earliest portraits. While at the Ransom Center, the exhibition will be supplemented with holdings from the Center’s Newman archive, which contains all of Newman’s negatives, slides and color transparencies, all of his original contact sheets and more than 2,000 prints, including examples of color and collage work. The collection also includes Newman’s original sittings books, correspondence and business files, early sketchbooks and photographic albums.”

Press release from the Harry Ransom Center website

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Arnold Newman. 'Violin shop : patterns on table, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania' 1941

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Arnold Newman
Violin shop : patterns on table, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1941
Gelatin silver print
© 1941 Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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Arnold Newman. 'Igor Stravinsky' 1945

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Arnold Newman
Igor Stravinsky
1945
Contact sheet of four negatives with Newman’s marks and cropping lines
Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center

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Cropping was also a practice Newman valued highly. His edges were determined with minute precision. Trained as a painter, Newman never had doubts about the virtues of cropping. His famed Stravinsky portrait would not have a fraction of its power without the stringent crop. As for printing, Newman was equally meticulous. He trusted few assistants, and those he did trust found that he would not accept a final print unless it was flawless in execution. (Wall text)

“Oh, people set up these nonsensical rules and regulations. You can’t crop, you can’t dodge your print, etc, etc., … But the great photographers that these people admire all did that!” (Wall text)

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Arnold Newman. 'Twyla Tharp, dancer and filmmaker, New York' 1987

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Arnold Newman
Twyla Tharp, dancer and filmmaker, New York
1987
Gelatin silver print
© Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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Sensibilities

Many of Newman’s photographs show confident people, posing proudly before their accomplishments, directly engaging the viewer. But many betray a certain réticence – fragility, a hint of vulnerability, or doubt. Newman was aware that a successful artist’s career was not all roses – thorns were encountered along the path. He also regarded the act of portraiture was necessarily collaborative, or transactional; each side had their own kind of power – the sitter could resist the control of the photographer, the photographer could expose the sitter in an unflattering light. A successful portrait had to negotiate this psychological uncertainty. Sometimes Newman wanted to show supreme confidence as the mark of the man; at other times he wanted to show chinks in the armour.

“You show a certain kind of empathy with the subject – I don’t want to use the word ‘sympathy’, but you sort of let them know you’re on their side.” (Wall text)

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Arnold Newman. 'Larry Rivers, painter, South Hampton, New York' 1975

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Arnold Newman
Larry Rivers, painter, South Hampton, New York
1975
Gelatin silver print
© 1975 Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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“During the second half of the 20th Century, there was no portrait photographer as productive, creative and successful as Arnold Newman. For almost seven decades Newman applied himself to his art and craft, never for a moment losing his zest for experimentation. His work was published in the most influential magazines of the day, and he was much interviewed, much quoted, and much respected. Several major solo exhibitions paid homage to his achievements during his lifetime, and his work can be found in many of the world’s most prestigious photography collections. No historical overview of portraiture would be complete without one or two Newman masterpieces, nor could any general history of the medium safely leave out his superb Stravinsky, Mondrian or Graham.

Surprisingly, many of Newman’s superb portraits have never been shown or published. This, his first posthumous retrospective, features a wide variety of such photographs. Moreover, it includes cityscapes, documentary photographs and still lifes that have rarely if even been exhibited. Even people already familiar with Newman’s work will find scores of unexpected images, rivaling the work the ‘icons’ they admire. Newman was never happy with the label, often applied, of ‘father of environmental portraiture’. He argued that his portraits were much more than simple records showing artists posing in their studios; there was a symbolic aspect too, and an emotional/psychological element, both fundamental to his approach. He asked critics to ignore all labels, and judge his portraits simply as they would any photographs.

Newman was also a great teacher, and he loved to share his knowledge and skills with aspiring photographers. As with all great artists, the pictures he made seem effortless, natural, but in fact they were the result of careful prior planning. Newman applied the same rigour to selecting the best of his ‘takes’, cropping them precisely, and then printing them with supreme skill. Highly self-critical, he admitted: “I was always my own worst art director.”

With Masterclass, we have endeavored to give viewers some insights into Newman’s approach. Work prints, prints with crop marks, rough prints with printing instructions, and variants reveal Newman’s great attention to detail and careful consideration of every aspect of the photographic art.”

William A. Ewing
Curator

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Arnold Newman. 'Salvador Dalí, painter, New York' 1951

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Arnold Newman
Salvador Dalí, painter, New York
1951
Gelatin silver print
© Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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Signatures

One of Newman’s favorite strategies was to place the sitters in front of his or her own work. They seem to be saying: ‘Here is my work. This is what I do’. Architects pose beside buildings and models, a test pilot beside his jet, a photographer in front of his prints, a furniture designer in his chair, scientists in front of their equations… At first glance, the pictures appear natural, giving the impression that Newman had surprised his subjects at work, but in fact the set-ups were meticulous.

In the hands of a lesser talent,such a technique could have developed into a routine uniformity, but Newman’s curiosity and genuine interest in his subjectsʼ work guaranteed a freshness to his portraiture, year after year. To maintain freshness, Newman advised aspiring portrait photographers to do what he did: read up about the subject beforehand, know what he or she has achieved. You will then quickly spot which elements in the environment will be useful.

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Arnold Newman. 'Notes on Artist's' [sic] series c. 1942

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Arnold Newman
Notes on Artist’s [sic] series
c. 1942
Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center

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Newman writes about his encounters with artists in New York City, describing his first meeting with Alfred Stieglitz.

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Arnold Newman. 'Alfred Stieglitz in his An American Place Gallery, 1944' 1944

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Arnold Newman
Alfred Stieglitz in his An American Place Gallery, 1944
1944
Contact print
Image courtesy of Harry Ransom Center

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Lumens

Newman preferred natural light, with ‘all its delightful, infinite varieties, indoors and out’. However, he felt that restricting oneself only to natural light had become a religion for many photographers, and artificial light was a taboo. Newman was pragmatic: if there wasn’t enough light to take the picture, he argued, it should be augmented; if it wasn’t the ‘right’ kind of light for the interpretation he desired, artificial lighting should be added. It was never a question of either/or. Newman often used spots and reflectors, but felt that strobes should be used only when absolutely necessary. Lighting effects in a Newman portrait are often subtle and sometimes dramatic. But they are always appropriate, and never excessive. (Wall text)

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Arnold Newman. 'Pablo Picasso, painter, sculptor and printmaker, Vallauris, France' 1954

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Arnold Newman
Pablo Picasso, painter, sculptor and printmaker, Vallauris, France
1954
Gelatin silver print
© Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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Choices

Newman might take 10, 20, 30 and in special cases even more than 50 individual photographs of a sitter, making minor adjustments each time. Sometimes the differences between the frames would be miniscule, though highly significant. We see this in two frames of Picasso: in Frame 54 (note that this one was used in several publications in error), we see that the artist seems distracted – his eyes are not focused, while his mouth is pinched, and his hand is placed awkwardly. In Frame 57, all these deficiencies have been corrected. (Wall text)

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Arnold Newman. 'Piet Mondrian, painter, New York' 1942

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Arnold Newman
Piet Mondrian, painter, New York
1942
Gelatin silver print
© Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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Habitats

Newman never liked to work in a studio, preferring to see where and how his subjects worked and lived. Dance studios, home libraries, classrooms, offices, living rooms, gardens, the street, and even, on occasion, a vast urban panorama were settings he employed. Particularly close to painters in spirit, he was stimulated by the raw materials, the paintings or sculptures in progress, and even the general clutter he found in their studios. He liked the challenge of having to make quick decisions based on what he saw around him, and argued that this spontaneous approach was much harder – and riskier – than working in his own studio, where everything was familiar and tested. By focusing on a sitter’s habitat, Newman felt that he was providing more than a striking likeness – he was revealing personality and character not through physiognomy (the principle of classic portraiture) but through the things artists gathered around them.

“For me the professional studio is a sterile world. I need to get out; be with people where they’re at home. I canʼt photograph ʻthe soulʼ but I can show tell you something fundamental about them.” (Wall text)

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Arnold Newman. 'Alexander Calder, sculptor, New York' 1943

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

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Arnold Newman. 'Palm Beach, Florida' 1986

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Arnold Newman
Palm Beach, Florida
1986
Gelatin silver print
© 1986 Arnold Newman / Getty Images

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Geometries

From his earliest days with the camera, Newman loved the geomtery of space – with or without people. He never tired of photographing architecture that appealed to him. The linear and the curvilinear; contrasting blocks of black and white; ovals, triangles rectangles, strong diagonals… it was never just a question of making a pleasing background – like a kind of geometrically-patterned wallpaper – but rather the creation of a harmonious, dynamic whole in which the sitter was an integral part. It was Newman’s consumate skill that prevented the sitter from being merely an adjunct to the design.

“Successful portraiture is like a three-legged stool. Kick out one leg and the whole thing collapses. In other words, visual ideas combined with technological control combined with personal interpretation equals photography. Each must hold it’s own.” (Wall text)

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The Harry Ransom Center
21st and Guadalupe Streets
Austin, Texas 78712
Phone: 512-471-8944

Exhibition Galleries Opening Hours:
10 am – 5 pm Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday
10 am – 7 pm Thursday
Noon – 5 pm Saturday and Sunday

Library Reading/Viewing Rooms Opening Hours:
9 am – 5 pm Monday-Friday
9 am – Noon Saturday

Harry Ransom Center website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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