It was probably not the brightest idea to visit Arnold Newman’s exhibition “Masterclass” on the opening night! The impact of each portrait is contained in the detail so you have to get close…this was a real fight! Elbows were involved and necks were strained whilst craning over shoulders and peering round heads. The saving grace of the evening was the reason we were all there, the incredible photography of Arnold Newman at the C/O Berlin which was definately worth the fight!
This exhibition was like a huge hall of at fame, and many of the photographs put faces I’d never seen to names I know so well. As well as showing the photographer himself, they showed me the people who I know as a book, a painting, a piece of music even, but not a person. I’d expected to see the portraits of famous people but I didn’t expect to see so many and I didn’t expect the people to be presented in the way they were.
Stravinsky wasn’t impressed! Photo: Arnold Newman, Courtesy of: C/O Berlin
The subjects are all in their natural surroundings, Newman hasn’t shot them in a studio but in the places that reflect who they are and with the objects that they associate themselves with. Stravinsky is with his piano, Dior with his models and all look very natural. Often the person doesn’t even appear to be the subject and takes up a very small section of the portrait, appears in the background or is obscured by something else. Newman is not capturing a face, he is capturing a personality.
This style is particularly interesting with some of the subjects. The image of Marylin Monroe is captivating but not because of her golden hair and dazzling smile. I didn’t even realise I was looking at Monroe. She doesn’t look like the glamorous icon we are so used to seeing, instead she seems troubled. Furthermore Newman captures her with her face, which is her defining “object”. It is the “object” that creates the many masks of the actress and icon.
Moody Marylin? Photo: Arnold Newman, Courtesy of: C/O Berlin
Don’t give up the day job
Arnold Newman’s attitude towards portrait seems pretty innovative for the times. Especially when examining his collaged photographic portraits. These pieces certainly show an interesting approach to the idea of “portrait”. The Writer C.P Snow is represented by his hands and eyes only, the most important tools of an author. To be honest it was a relief that he didn’t do this too often as they just looked a bit messy, especially in comparison with the sharp photography.
Due to the nature of the photography I could have felt like a crazed fan there to see the famous people not the photography. However the images are so striking that they take centre stage and I found myself lingering over ones of people I hadn’t heard of as it became a kind of game. What story does the portrait tell and what can I work out about the person in it? This also left me wondering what my portrait would look like! Right now it would look hungry and a bit war-wounded…nothing a pizza at “A Posto” can’t cure!
- C/O Berlin “Masterclass” Arnold Newman, March 3rd – May 20th 2012, Mon – Sun: 11am – 8pm