By Gillie Houston Special to the chronicle
In his iconic portrait, Pablo Picasso sits stern-faced in a pool of sepia light against a backdrop of grey. One hand rests on his forehead, obscuring half of his face in shadows, and his eyes peer into the camera, creating a feeling of intimacy with the audience. With this and his many other revered portraits, photographer Arnold Newman paved the path of a new, luminous age of portrait photography.
Currently on display at “Arnold Newman: Luminaries of the Twentieth Century in Art, Politics and Culture” at Hofstra University’s Emily Lowe gallery, these brilliant works offer some of the most unprecedented examples of modern portraiture ever created.
Arnold Newman, recognized by many as the ‘father of environmental portraiture,’ spent his 60 year career photographing some of the most influential and innovative artists, scientists and visionaries of the 20th century, capturing those subjects with a rawness and intimacy few have achieved on film.
Newman’s iconic work, which served as the definition of modern portraiture, has been exhibited in major museums all around the world and is now gracing the Emily Lowe gallery, allowing Hofstra and the surrounding community the opportunity to view these creations first-hand.
The exhibit highlights many of Newman’s most famed and transcendent works. The exhibit’s subjects include the likes of Woody Allen, Frank Lloyd Wright, Bill Clinton, Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, John F. Kennedy and many more.
These “Luminaries of the Twentieth Century” have each been captured in a unique and powerful way and the simplicity of the gallery’s setup allows the vivid photographs to speak for themselves.
Newman’s subjects are photographed in a broad range from extreme close ups, as seen in the famed Picasso portrait, to more distant figures, blending in to the surrounding environment. Known for his keen usage of backgrounds to enhance the image, Newman’s work is notable for the impact of the subjects’ surroundings—many photographed with their work or in the setting where their work was created.
A 1953 photograph of Diana Vreeland, noted fashion columnists for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar, features her in a long striped gown matching the exact pattern of the walls and furniture, allowing her to become a centerpiece to the scenery. Newman’s portrait of John F. Kennedy from the same year has the President reduced to a muted figure in the corner.
The artist’s primary use of black and white allows him to emphasize backgrounds to create captivating shapes and figures.
While each of Arnold Newman’s portraits takes on an individual air and emotion, the one aspect that is consistent through his collected works is the intimacy Newman’s photographs manage to create, despite often larger-than-life subjects.
Each provides a small window into the hidden worlds of these luminaries, artists and thinkers who somehow left a substantial mark on society, the way Newman left his mark on the art world.
One needs only to view his portrait of Pablo Picasso—full of depth and intimacy—to feel the power of Newman’s expert eye and his talent for utilizing the beauty of the ordinary to emphasize the extraordinary.
“Luminaries“ is running free to the public now through December 13, 2013, at the Emily Lowe gallery in Lowe Hall. The show is organized by art2art Circulating Exhibitions with additional funding by Astoria Federal Savings.