ARNOLD NEWMAN

18 JANUARY - 11 FEBRUARY 2012

50 prints by Arnold Newman, one of the most important and distinctive photographers of the 20th century.

Best known for his portraits of the most influential cultural and political figures of his day, the American photographer Arnold Newman created a style entirely his own, which set the standard for those that followed.

In contrast to Richard Avedon and Irving Penn, Newman went out from his studio and photographed his subjects in their own natural environments, so revealing their habits and personalities through their interaction with the things that surrounded them.

However, Newman remained in control, first getting to know his sitters and putting them at their ease, and then rearranging the spaces to create compositions that symbolised his understanding of their characters and achievements. So Mondrian, for example, is placed with the angles of his easel as an echo of the pure geometry of his painting.

Dismissive of celebrity, Newman said of his subjects, "it is what they are, not who they are, that fascinates me." Sometimes, as with his famous image of Stravinsky, he would have to recreate a natural habitat artificially, so he expressed his essence by placing him at a grand piano in an editor's apartment: "a strong, hard, linear shape, very much like Stravinsky's music". On other occasions, he would close in on a face, especially as instantly recognisable a face as Marilyn Monroe, whom he considered the saddest woman he ever knew.

Only rarely would Newman accept to photograph a figure he found unsympathetic the most notable exception being the Nazi war criminal, Alfried Krupp, whom he transformed into Mephistopheles.

Though suspicious of the term "art photography", Newman transferred his ambitions to be a painter to photography precisely by considering it as an independent medium and a discipline to be mastered. At an early stage, he showed how he could read and shape his own environment especially that of West Palm Beach by producing semi-abstract images of buildings and objects (14 of which are included here).

Returning to his native New York in his early twenties, Newman would capture the city's rich cultural scene over six decades, building particularly strong relationships with other creative figures, including musicians (Isaac Stern), choreographers (Martha Graham and Jerome Robbins) and writers (TrumanCapote and Henry Miller), as well as visual artists (from Max Ernst to Robert Rauschenberg).

As his career coincided with the rise of the picture magazine, Newman also undertook international assignments, for the likes of Life and Harper's Bazaar, to produce a wide range of photo essays, here represented by work he did in France (Braque and Picasso) and Britain (Bacon and Hockney).

The subject of exhibitions and books since the outset, Newman is still appreciated as a major practitioner in his own right and as one who helped to establish photography as an art.

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