Vale Eve Arnold

Eve Arnold, London, 1998, photo by Henri Cartier-Bresson. Copyright Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos
Eve Arnold, London, 1998. Copyright Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos

Photographer Eve Arnold died recently, at 99. From the obituary article in the «Los Angeles Times»:

“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, died in January 2012. She was 99 years old… 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.” (From: http://www.latimes.com/news/obituaries/la-me-eve-arnold-20120106,0,7118173.story?page=1)

In late October 1996 I attended a party at the London home of the Lebanese novelist Hanan el-Shaykh, and met Eve Arnold. She was then in her mid-eighties, with beautiful manners, a lovely light American accent, and dressed in the most elegant dove-grey suit I have ever seen, rather like the one she is shown wearing in Henri Cartier-Bresson’s portrait a year or two later.

Some months before this, I had been reading John Berger’s book «Photocopies», in which he relates that Cartier-Bresson, one of the world’s greatest masters of the art of photography, had given up taking pictures in his old age and reverted to drawing, a skill he had been trained in as a young man.

This astonished me so much I noted it in my review of Berger’s book:

“Cartier-Bresson is a master so far beyond and above his art that twenty years ago, when he was in his late sixties, he abandoned it to go back to pencil sketching, which he’d learned as a young man. I have often wondered if that grand renunciation was a gesture of disdain, or weariness, or anguish in the face of photography’s intractable glibness… Berger doesn’t confront him with the question why, like the poet Rimbaud, he abandoned the art at which he excelled. No doubt it’s a painful question, and it might well be unanswerable.”

I mentioned this crucial decision to Eve Arnold, who had known Cartier-Bresson for decades. She gave a little laugh and touched me gently on the arm. “Oh, that Henri,” she said. “He was always saying things like that.”

She took hundreds of photos of Marilyn Monroe, and is responsible for a remarkable 1955 color photo of Marilyn Monroe reading «Ulysses» by James Joyce in a Long Island playground. There is a gentle irony in MM’s choice of the last chapter.

Photo of Marilyn Monroe, 1955, Long Island, New York by Eve Arnold.  Copyright Eve Arnold / Magnum Photos.
Photo of Marilyn Monroe, 1955, Long Island, New York by Eve Arnold. Copyright Eve Arnold / Magnum Photos.

In «Joyce and Popular Culture», R.B. Kershner quotes a letter from Arnold about the day she took the shot:

We worked on a beach on Long Island… I asked her what she was reading when I went to pick her up (I was trying to get an idea of how she spent her time). She she kept «Ulysses» in her car and had been reading it for a long time. She said she loved the sound of it and would read it aloud to herself to try to make sense of it–but she found it hard going. She couldn’t read it consecutively. When we stopped at a local playground to photograph she got out the book and started to read while I loaded the film. So, of course, I photographed her.

(From: http://tumblr.austinkleon.com/post/125887067, 2012-01-06)