Spend time in the company of some Hollywood greats

Story by Jack Foley

 

BEST known for her photographs of Marilyn Monroe, Eve Arnold has also been credited for re-defining the glamour of Hollywood, as well as offering a personal insight into the lives of some of the world’s leading political figures of days gone by, such as Malcolm X and Richard Nixon.

But it is her work with the stars that is the focus of attention at a new exhibition at the Zelda Cheatle Gallery in London (W1), running until November 15, which should prove a massive draw for fans of the silver screen.

As Isabella Rossellini once remarked while talking about her time spent on the site of White Nights: "She [Eve] tiptoed around us on the set barefoot, snapping photos. She was a transparent presence. If we noticed her lens pointing at us, she stopped. I never felt she was stealing our images, or that she was exposing us to what we did not want to show. Eve was sort of a guardian angel, invisible and attentive. I liked her around us."

This kind of tribute is typical of the respect with which Eve Arnold is held.

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1913, the daughter of Russian immigrants, Arnold's first photographs were taken on a $40 Rolleicord given to her by a boyfriend.

However, apart from a six-week course at New York's New School for Social Research under the late Alexei Brodovitch, art director of Harper's Bazaar, she is self-taught, having been brought to his attention when he saw hand-held photographs she had taken on an assignment among the fashion shows in Harlem.

Describing them as fresh, original and a new approach to fashion, Brodovitch told Arnold: "You do not do class assignments. Go back to Harlem and do comprehensive study."

Arnold did as she was told, spending a year in the bars and restaurants, and continuing to experiment with her style. When the story was completed, her pictures were sent to Tom Hopkinson, the editor of Picture Post in Britain, who subsequently published eight pages and a cover.

Arnold was then taken on by the Magnum photo-agency in 1951, the first female to do so, and became a full-time member in 1955, quickly becoming a highly-respected member of the team, despite being one of the few female photographers.

Despite working in such a male-driven environment, however, she never felt restricted by gender, describing it as ‘a big plus to be a woman working in those days’, as 'men liked to be photographed by women, women liked to be photographed by women’.

It was during her time at Magnum that Arnold began to shape her career path. She had wanted to cover the Vietnam War but was told by her art director that she could not run fast enough, and instead opted to focus on people and personalities, constantly challenging the conventions of portraiture with an intriguing insight into the human condition.

Her most famous subject, however, and the one for whom she is renowned is screen icon Marilyn Monroe, whom she first met as a starlet.

Arnold is quoted as saying: "We were both starting out and neither of us knew what we were doing. Marilyn was very important in my career and I think I was helpful in hers."

Arnold’s skill in capturing a different side to Monroe is what makes her work so special. As Sara Stevenson, curator of Photography at the National Photography Collection, Scottish National Portrait Collection, commented in Magna Brava; Magnum's Women Photographers: "Most of the photographs of Monroe taken by men have a gloss of sexuality. She and Eve were both aware of her ability to turn this persona on, as an almost mechanistic trick. It is Eve's personal charm that gives us the relaxed individual and the subtler person of Marilyn Monroe."

Arnold is equally proud to have captured a side to Monroe that few people ever got to know, saying: "She was very clever, although uneducated, but she was street-smart and very witty."

Arnold later photographed the actress towards the end of her career and was present for two months on the set of The Misfits in 1960 - prints which are an integral part of the exhibition.

But she was equally at home on other film sets, capturing the likes of Joan Crawford and Marlene Dietrich on several occasions. Her work is essential viewing for anyone who is passionate about film.

Other highlights include a shot of Paul Newman taking a class at the Actors Studio in New York in 1955, and Marlon Brando standing on the set of A Countess From Hong Kong in 1966.

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