Text by Philip Brookman, from Arnold Newman
Breaking GroundThroughout history, portraits have documented our legacy, creating a gallery of faces, a representation of ourselves that connects who we are today with who we were in years past. This legacy - the tie that binds, as we say - allows us to construct and remember an image of the past that becomes, in all its forms, visual history. On one level, this implies an ancestral shrine, history entombed, or a simple catalogue of memories: the family album. Each face stands for a life lived, for who we were at any given moment. However, history and memory are fluid concepts. Like the reflection of headlights on a stormy highway, they are always changing, never still. There is poetry in this dance of light. Therefore, we can glean many layers of information from the faces of our times. Behind these masks - we don them to cloak the psychological mysteries that delineate history - there are unseen clues to who we were, who we are, and who we will become.
So what is a portrait, really? This question has many different answers when applied to Arnold Newman's photographs. He has earned a reputation as one of the most influential portraitists of our time, a photographer who has changed the way we look at ourselves. Crafted with a deep understanding of the creative process, Newman's art is widely seen and reproduced in print media. He has, over time, influenced our vision of the world by projecting on a global screen the defining images of political leaders, cultural icons, and everyday people. Often, when we think of Pablo Picasso, Igor Stravinsky, Jackson Pollock, or Lyndon B. Johnson, to name but a few, we conjure up one of his images.
According to Newman, "The portrait is a form of biography. Its purpose is to inform now and to record for history." He reminds us in this straightforward statement that a portrait is a record of a moment in time, of history writ large and made for the ages - a moment that is frozen as if in a glacier, to be unearthed by anthropologists in the future. However, when we start to dig deeper, to scan all the complex information in one of Newman's photographs, his words "to record for history" become symbolic of far more. His pictures often hold within them some of the clues to understanding the personalities he depicts: a colorful mask, an aesthetic presence, an interior silence, a creative psychology, or a relationship to the surrounding space or other people. He understands that photography always reveals some truth in its gaze and creates a fictional paradigm from this veracity.
Newman's portraits record specific histories and interpret the personalities he photographs. He connects these to the pictorial environment that best represents his intuitive understanding of a person. He creates a visual tension between a moment and a psychological presence. It is this tension - between the instant we see and the eternity that makes up our interior lives - that brings these pictures to life. They are not documents of events but photographs created with broad strokes. They elucidate something as intangible as a personality, using all available tools to uncover a relationship between his subjects and their changing world.
If the people in Newman's images are always changing, as is the photographer's vision, whose viewpoint is depicted in this work? Do we see through Newman's eyes or those of the sitter? His photographs are created through a process of give and take, in which he carefully studies the people he depicts and prepares them with an understanding of his work. Through observation, communication, and collaboration - a conversation, really - he finds a set of symbols and ideas, creating a point of view with which to perceive that person. In this way he constructs his images...
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