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Icons in Focus: Arnold Newman and his Environmental Photography

A powerful portrait composition accounts many things into play. The character of the subject, context of the photograph and the execution are few things to be considered. All were masterfully done by environmental portraitist, Arnold Newman.

Arnold Newman was a photography master in his own right. Hailing from simple roots and choosing photography as a way to make a living in his earlier years, Newman was aware of the different factors that create a strong impression on people who looked at his works. Arnold Abner Newman was born March 3, 1918, in New York and shifted his focus on photography as an end to means. Newman originally pursued painting but was left no other choice to drop out of school due to financial difficulty. He died in New York while he was recovering from a heart stroke in June 6, 2006.

Photo via STL Today website

His iconic style in portraiture meant taking picture of people in their basic element. That is what set Newman apart from other photographers during his day. Moving away from the studio-type shoots that some of his contemporaries favoured, Newman made sure he captured the essence of his subjects in the environment where they practice their craft. The artisanal quality of his compositions and the way he produced them still create ripples in the world of photography today. His appreciation of design, varying degrees of disarray and composition are self evident in his works.

Some notable portraits he did come from the world of powerhouse people, not necessarily falling under the celebrity status. Arnold Newman also claimed that he hated the whole idea of celebrity. True enough, he masterfully immortalized his subjects as he kept focus on their craft and not on the matter of whether they’re superstars or “famous alone for being famous.”

His renowned portrait of industrialist Alfred Krupp painted a picture for audiences to see – the metallic factory line behind him hinted stories of slave labor. Another noteworthy portrait is that of President John F. Kennedy, painted with strong political overtones that commanded attention from the audience – such powerful imagery as only Arnold Newman can do. He merged personality, intelligence, creativity and integrity of the people he photographed into prints that can tell quite a story with just one look.

Newman’s approach to photography and the vision he shared with his audiences may never be faithfully replicated but his works continue to inspire and amaze people and other photographers. Newman veered away from the usual notions and kept true to his stylistic art. His signature style in portrait photography a lesson to many, if not to all who love and appreciate photography as an art form.

All information used for this article were sourced from
The New York Times, Harry Ransom Center website, My Modern Met website, Arnold Newman Archive

Like this article? Check out the Icons in Focus series in the Lomography Magazine!

written by cheeo

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