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Photojournalist Eve Arnold Dies At 99

Jan 5, 2012
Originally published on May 23, 2012 11:09 am

Photographer Eve Arnold died Wednesday, just a few months shy of her 100th birthday. Arnold is best known for her intimate portraits of both the rich and famous — including Marilyn Monroe, Malcolm X and Joan Crawford — and of the down and out.

As Robert Capa, one of the founders of the agency Magnum Photos, once put it: Arnold's work "falls metaphorically between Marlene Dietrich's legs and the bitter lives of migratory potato pickers."

But that was a polarity — of ordinary and extraordinary subjects — that Arnold rejected in a 1990 BBC interview: "I don't see anybody as either ordinary or extraordinary," she said. "I see them simply as people in front of my lens.

"She was very, by nature, on the side of the underdog," says Brigitte Lardinois, a colleague and friend of Arnold's and co-author of the book Eve Arnold's People. "She was by nature somebody who believed that all people are equal."

Arnold was born in Philadelphia to Russian immigrant parents, but moved to London in the '60s. She was one of the first women to join Magnum Photos — then and now a renowned photo agency. Her photos appeared on the pages of Time and Life, and very often, the stories were her ideas.

"Themes recur again and again in my work," The Associated Press once quoted Arnold as saying. "I have been poor and I wanted to document poverty; I had lost a child and I was obsessed with birth; I was interested in politics and I wanted to know how it affected our lives; I am a woman and I wanted to know about women."

"She has been very important to me," Lardinois says. "Not just as a great photographer but as a fellow human being and an impressive woman."

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then we're about to use far too few words to remember a photographer who took many great pictures. Eve Arnold died yesterday, just a few months shy of her 100th birthday. Arnold is best known for her intimate portraits of both the rich and famous, including Marilyn Monroe and Joan Crawford, and of the down and out. One of the founders of the Magnum photo agency where she worked put it this way, Arnold's work falls metaphorically between Marlene Dietrich's legs and the bitter lives of migratory potato pickers.

That was a polarity between the ordinary and the extraordinary that Eve Arnold rejected in a 1990 BBC interview.

EVE ARNOLD: I don't see anybody as either ordinary or extraordinary. I see them simply as people in front of my lens.

SIEGEL: We're joined now by Brigitte Lardinois, a colleague and a friend of Arnold's, and co-author of the book "Eve Arnold's People." Welcome to the program.

BRIGITTE LARDINOIS: Thank you.

SIEGEL: You met and worked with Eve Arnold in London, where she lived for many years. But she was originally an American. She's from Philadelphia.

LARDINOIS: She is from Philadelphia but she moved to England in the '60s. Her only son, Frank, was going to go to boarding school in Britain.

SIEGEL: She took many very famous pictures of Marilyn Monroe, who was photographed by other photographers, as well. Is there something about an Eve Arnold photograph that lets you know that's an Eve Arnold photograph?

LARDINOIS: Yes, there is a degree of intimacy that she has achieved with Marilyn that I don't think any other photographer had. And Eve could...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LARDINOIS: ...tell beautifully about how they would be in New York together and sit in the back of a taxi. And the taxi driver would say to Marilyn Monroe, gosh, you know, if you lost a bit of weight and put a bit of makeup on, you could be Marilyn Monroe.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LARDINOIS: And she would say to Eve, shall we do it. And then Eve said yes. And Marilyn would sort of throw her head back and straighten her shoulders, and suddenly she would become Marilyn. And they had fantastic fun with things like that. So there was an irreverence and a trust between those two women.

SIEGEL: There were also very famous pictures that she took of Malcolm X. One profile in particular of him in a fedora, I guess. It's a very, very stunning shot. She also spent a good deal of time with Malcolm X, I gather.

LARDINOIS: She did and that's really was remarkable for a tiny, little Jewish lady to have that access. And sometimes she would come from those big gatherings where he spoke. And she said she always wore cashmere because when she came home, she would find holes in the back of her pullover where people had been shooting burning cigarettes into her back.

SIEGEL: Of course, we should mention that while it wasn't - she wasn't the only female photojournalist in her day, it was a rare thing. She was a pioneer in her time, wasn't she?

LARDINOIS: She was a pioneer. And within Magnum, it was a sort of - because Magnum, even now, has notoriously few women and members. And it was always a bit of a banter whether it had been Inga Morath or Eve who first joined as a woman photographer. And it was very special the way that those women held their own in that agency, and quite inspiring to see them.

SIEGEL: Well, thank you very much for talking with us about your friend.

LARDINOIS: Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: That's Brigitte Lardinois, who is co-author of the book "Eve Arnold's People," remembering the late photographer Eve Arnold, who died yesterday at the age of 99.

ARNOLD: I don't think there's anything that I would rather do than photograph people against their background and within the framework of their lives. But I think it's the most exciting thing I can do. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.