By Mary Rourke, Special to the Los Angeles Times
January 6, 2012
Eve Arnold, one of the first woman photojournalists to join the prestigious Magnum Photography Agency in the 1950s and traveled the world for her work but was best known for her candid shots of Hollywood celebrities, has died. She was 99.
Arnold died Wednesday at a London nursing home, Magnum announced. The cause was not specified.
Starting in 1951, when career women were a rarity, Arnold navigated distant countries and cultures, photographing horse trainers in Mongolia, factory workers in China and harem women in Dubai. Her photo essays appeared in feature news magazines and in the many books she compiled.
"Eve was a very good photographer," said Stephen White, who owned the Stephen White photography gallery in Los Angeles from 1975 to 1990. "She was socially significant, as one of a group of women photographers who emerged after World War II."
Arnold began working for Magnum on a freelance basis in 1951 and became a full member of the group in 1957.
The agency's founders included Henri Cartier-Bresson and Robert Capa, considered the greatest reportage photographers of the time. Most members of the cooperative were men. Arnold's only female colleague at the agency was Inge Morath, who joined Magnum as a full member in 1955.
"I began to haunt the files at Magnum," Arnold recalled in her memoir, "Eve Arnold: In Retrospect" (1995). Studying contact sheets she found there, she learned how each of Magnum's photographers approached an assignment. Cartier-Bresson's photographs, in particular, taught her to tell an entire story in a single image, she wrote.
Arnold made Hollywood a specialty starting in the mid-1950s. Her attraction to the backstage of life gave her a particular angle on the movie business. "Eve used a photojournalistic approach," White said of Arnold's photos of actors and actresses. "Hers was the naturalistic form as opposed to the posed studio photography more often associated with Hollywood at that time."
In several books, including, "Eve Arnold: Film Journal" (2001), she wrote about her experiences in Hollywood. Some of her best known images are candid shots of Marilyn Monroe. On the movie set of "The Misfits," Arnold captured the tension between Monroe and playwright Arthur Miller, her husband at the time and the screenwriter on the 1960 film. One photograph shows them together on a veranda, looking as if they have just cut short an argument. Others show glimpses of Monroe's legendary insecurity. In one photograph she sits at a table with a script in front of her, hands covering her eyes.
"She liked my photographs and was canny enough to realize that they were a fresh approach for presenting her — a looser, more intimate look than the posed studio portraits she was used to in Hollywood," Arnold wrote of Monroe in "Film Journal."
It was a mutually beneficial arrangement. Arnold published several more books, "Marilyn Monroe: An Appreciation" and "Marilyn for Ever," both in 1987. She exhibited and sold the images repeatedly, for decades.
Her photographs of Joan Crawford show the actress in her 50s, near the end of her reign as Hollywood royalty. None is flattering. There are close-ups of Crawford applying makeup to her wrinkled eyelids and evaluating her aged face in a hand mirror.
"The first time I met Joan Crawford she took off all her clothes, stood in front of me nude and insisted I photograph her," Arnold wrote in "Film Journal." They met in a dressing room when Arnold was on assignment for Women's Home Companion magazine. "Sadly," she wrote of Crawford, "something happens to flesh after 50."
After the photo session Crawford demanded that Arnold give her the film of the nudes and Arnold agreed.
Images of Crawford are among the more brutal included in "Film Journal." The book was praised for its "poignant [images], all capturing an off-guard moment full of character" in a 2002 review in the Canadian Review of Books.
One of her most challenging assignments was a photo essay about the Nation of Islam and its leader, Malcolm X, in the early 1960s. In an essay accompanying the photographs, published in Life magazine in 1962, Arnold wrote that she was spat on at one rally and after another she found the back of her sweater covered with burn holes from cigarette butts.
She did her best to avoid "women's pages" assignments but still had to photograph her share of women and children. Whenever possible she worked from a global perspective.
In Zululand, South Africa, 1973, Arnold photographed expectant mothers waiting in line to see a doctor. Each woman is beautifully poised and appears to be lost in daydreams.
On a trip through China in 1979 Arnold took pictures of toddlers in the nursery at a cotton mill, sitting together on a long bench, plump and pink cheeked. They are included in Arnold's 1980 book "In China," which won the National Book Award.
The book's cover shows an old woman's face, an arrangement of soft creases and a pair of gentle eyes.
The same physical description suited Arnold as an older woman. "Eve was diminutive, quiet, an elegant dresser, an ageless woman of 80 when I first met her," Mary Panzer, former curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C., told The Times in 2006.
She was born Eve Cohen to Russian immigrant parents in Philadelphia in 1912 and went to work at a young age after receiving a basic education.
"I came to photography by accident," Arnold wrote in her book "In Retrospect." A friend gave her a Rolleicord portable box camera. That got her interested in taking pictures.
In one of her first jobs she worked at a photo-finishing plant in New Jersey where she learned the technical side of her craft. The artistry came to her during a six-week course at the New School for Social Research in New York City in 1948. Her instructor was Alexey Brodovitch, the art director for Harper's Bazaar magazine. He taught his students the basics about composition and style.
For one class assignment Arnold followed the action backstage at a fashion show in Harlem. A British magazine, Picture Post, published the photographs, Arnold's debut in print.
From there she built a portfolio of freelance work and parlayed it into her first assignment from Magnum.
Later in her life she complained that she was given second rate assignments at Magnum. Her admirers argue that she did very well.
"Magnum was a macho culture when Eve started there," said Panzer of the National Portrait Gallery. "She had the determination to stay."
In 1961, Arnold became a contract photographer for the London Sunday Times' Colour Magazine. After years of shooting in black and white, she had to learn how to work in color to keep up with changing times, she wrote in her memoir.
One of her best known stories for Colour offered a rare look inside harems in Dubai and the Arab Emirates, in the early 1970s. The photo essay led her to a television documentary, "Behind the Veil," for the BBC.
She had her first major solo exhibit in 1980 at the Brooklyn Museum. Others followed at the National Portrait Gallery and elsewhere.
Still working in her 70s, Arnold completed "In America" (1983), a book with images of prison workers cleaning up litter near train tracks in Texas and chess players at an outdoor pavilion in Chicago, among other sights.
"What drove me and kept me going over the decades?" Arnold wrote in her memoir. "If I had to use a single word, it would be 'curiosity.' "
Her marriage to Arnold Arnold ended in divorce.
Survivors include her son Francis and three grandchildren.
Rourke is a former Los Angeles Times staff writer.
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