"Photography is very unreal. You take a three-dimensional world and reduce it to two. You take color and reduce it to black and white. And you arrest the flow of time. There are many things that are very false about photography. You must recognize this, and build on it, and they maybe you'll have art." -Arnold Newman.
My friend, Wyatt, e-mailed me a few days ago and suggested that I post information here about the Arnold Newman show at the Harry Ranson Center (aka: The Humanities Research Center) on the University of Texas at Austin campus. I was embarrassed when I realized that the show opened a couple of weeks ago and I hadn't been.
I don't recommend shows I haven't seen so I got into the futuristic Visual Science Lab car and headed over to the UT campus. Okay, the show is amazing. If you are a big fan of Arnold Newman's brilliant, black and white environmental portraiture you'll be in heaven. The entire ground floor of the museum is dedicated to showcasing hundreds of wonderful prints. If you aren't a big fan or you don't know who Arnold Newman is (go Google now...we'll wait) this show might surprise you.
"Oh, people set up these nonsensical rules and regulations. You can't crop, you can't dodge your print, etc., etc… But the great photographers that these people admire all did that!" -Arnold Newman.
The venue is wonderful. And today was even more wonderful. While photography experts might come to the consensus that Arnold Newman is easily in the "top ten" of influential and amazingly insightful photographers who worked in the 20th century the show was made even more special for me because.....I was the only person in attendance. No line in front of the incredibly famous Stravinsky portrait (along with the contract prints and various croppings). No line in front of the Alfred Krupp or Picasso portraits either. Just an enormous, quiet, well lit room with me and a couple hundred amazing, black and white prints... Wyatt was right. If you're coming within 100 miles of Austin this should be on your list of "must sees." Maybe even before Franklin's BBQ and the Continental Club.
"Successful portraiture is like a three-legged stool. Kick out one leg and the whole thing collapses. In other words, visual ideas combined with technological control combined with personal interpretation equals photography. Each must hold its own." -Arnold Newman.
When I finished staring at the beautifully crafted, fiber, black and white prints of equally interesting artists, actors and thought leaders of Newman's time I was a bit sad. It was obvious that photographers had much more leeway in the last half of the 20th century that perhaps we ever will again. The work showed a depth of conceptualism that made it more than a record or a magazine space filler. The background information conveyed by the curators of the exhibit made clear the reality that Newman could work on a portrait session until he got what he wanted....and he was able to solicit a collaboration with most of his sitters based on an intellectual sharing, and by using time as an ally.
The work is an amazing testament to the idea that people like Newman were creating art that pleased them first and sometimes singularly instead of just fulfilling the needs of a client.
If you want to see what photography was like when craft, talent, intellect and intention were required for success (not just good social media) you owe it to yourself to see this first hand. It's one of the best photography shows I have seen in ages. Made even more magnetic when you realize that he worked with a 4x5 inch view camera for most of his career and much preferred natural light and continuous light to electronic flash....
Wyatt was right. I was duty bound to report this one.