“Learning How to Rebel: In Her Own Eyes.. Eve Arnold…”

Learning How to Rebel: In Her Own Eyes

By Daniel Pettus.

“…The person or persons involved
Parading slowly through the sunlit fields
Not only as though the danger did not exist
But as though the birds were in on the secret.”1


“Self Portrait” Eve Arnold, NYC 1950.

If there were a secret to Eve Arnold’s success she would have already told it. Arnold, the esteemed and historic photographer, succeeded at photography by simply (yet, arduously) dedicating her life to it (1912-2012). Photography wasn’t a dream profession she mulled over, from childhood. Rather, as she is famously quoted as saying: “I came to photography by accident.”2 Using her femininity, as a means by which to provide novel approaches to a man’s profession, Arnold eventually received credit from feminists as being a pioneer. However, early in her career it was the identification of being a “woman photographer” she wished to rebel from. She writes, “I didn’t want to be a ‘woman photographer”3 referring to the title given to her by the editor at Collier (attempting to identify her as something different based entirely on her gender).


Malcolm X

“I wanted to be a photographer who was a woman, with all the world open to my camera. What I wanted was to use my female insights and personality to interpret what I photographed.”4 Arnold’s work is described by Robert Capa as falling, “metaphorically of course, between Marlene Dietrich’s legs and the bitter lives of migratory workers.”5 This in-between took Arnold all across the world, photographing all kinds of people and places (Malcolm X, male strippers in New Jersey, Marilyn Monroe, some of the oldest living men in Russia, the Vatican, harems in Dubai etc.). Summing up Arnold’s life and career, Liz Jobey, a friend of Arnold’s says it best: “she has been unstoppable.”6


Marilyn Monroe

Rebellion came easy for Arnold. Growing up in a poor Russian-Jewish immigrant family in Philadelphia, her mother wanted her daughters married and supported. Arnold, on the other hand, always relished in her independence. Even at the end of her career she remained skeptical regarding technological advances in photography. New technology allowed for an alteration that had more to do with “glitz and packaging” rather than “substance.”7


Anthony Quinn and Anna Karina, 1967.

The instance—the moment of capturing a specific event in order to represent a time in history seemingly had been superseded by a marketable goal. Arnold realized the benefits some technological advances provided, yet she writes: “Paradoxically, I think the photographer should be an amateur at heart—someone who loves the craft.

Then she must have a healthy constitution, a strong stomach, a distinct will, quick reflexes and a sense of adventure, and be willing to take risks.”8


George Lincoln Rockwell (American Nazi Party,) at a Black Muslim Meeting, 1961.

Her time spent photographing Marlene Dietrich exemplifies all of these. Dietrich was not an easy subject, because she knew much about photography and even more so the way in which she wanted to be photographed. After one session photographing Dietrich, Arnold recevied word from their mutual friend Leo Lerman that Dietrich had complained that she had been there all night taking pictures. “He asked why she hadn’t stopped me. She said it had never occurred to her, I had done it with ‘such authority.”9


Dietrich and Ann Warner, 1939.

Arnold’s perspective on photography and the way she took pictures is characteristic of Gilles Deleuze’s perspective on the event. In his book, “The Fold” he writes: “It is a world of captures instead of closures.” Namely, the world has instances of openings that will be infinitely different from one another. Arnold’s photography embodied this philosophy.


South African Hospital, 1973.

She recognized the potentiality the fleeting moments of life contained: photography transformed them in-to something more than mere occurrence. For example, her photography work in South Africa for the Sunday Times, provides the viewer with a particular and distinct reality.


Emirates, 1971

She writes: ”photography and cinematography shared the same aims. To paraphrase existing definitions, they strive to capture and reproduce reality, to enhance the familiar and, by isolating it, transform it into dramatic impact.”1 Existentially, “All I need do is think of people I met and conditions I saw at the time, look at the photographs or think of the worm in the apple in that beautiful Paradise, and the pain is back again.”10


A Patient in a Hospital in Haiti, for the mentally ill, 1954.

This moment is not something that can be taught. Telling of the advice Arnold once received she writes: “I can teach you the steps, but you will have to feel the music.”11 Obtaining such feeling requires diligence and extreme concentration. “The popular notion that the photographer is someone who flits about the world clicking gaily away could not be more wrong.”12 Arnold was not only more than a woman photographer, but also more than merely a photographer in general. Arnold took to heart the advice Robert Capa from the Magnum office gave her colleague Henri Cartier-Bresson when he was having difficulty being accepted as a serious photographer. Capa told Cartier-Bresson: “Stop calling yourself a photojournalist and call yourself a surrealist.”13 Talking about photography Arnold writes: “sometimes the magic works; more often not—but the photographer must continue to try to understand the subject, to get the proportions right, to try to establish not only a personal style, but an empathy with and a sympathy for the subject.”14


Cicely Tyson, 1968. copyright Magnum Photos.

Gene Baro an art critic, wrote the following definition of a photojournalist when preparing a catalogue for Arnold’s China show at the Brooklyn Museum: “…the best photojournalism transcends its subject and gives us images that have a timeless quality, so acute visually that no other explanation is needed finally. The art is in what remains when the occasion has faded.”15 Looking at Arnold’s photographs from China bring Baro’s definition to life. The expressions on children’s faces at a cotton mill nursery, the intimate details shown from a child receiving a permanent wave and the juxtaposition of two extremely different aged women’s turmoil-ed eyes present the viewer with a faded occasion that will now last as long as the photograph. Arnold was a master at illuminating the intimate.


“Permenant Wave”

In the Eve Arnold Handbook, a book representing Arnold’s intimate photographs of hands she writes: “Usually when photographers say ‘just one more’ they mean they will take one more picture for insurance. I find myself saying ‘just one more’ and meaning a picture of the subject’s hands or, sometimes, feet.”16 These images provide the viewer with a “timeless quality,” so rich and expressive of the immanent quality of life itself, to try to describe them with words seems arbitrary.


Isabella Rossellini, 1984.


1. John Ashbury, Rivers and Mountains. “If the Birds Knew.” (The Ecco Press: New York, 1962), 16.
2. Eve Arnold, Eve Arnold: In Retrospect (Knopf: New York, 1995) 3.
3. Ibid.
4. Ibid.
5. Ibid., 28.
6. Liz Jobey, All About Eve: The Photography of Eve Arnold, Introduction (Te Neus Publishing Company, 1012), 13.
7. Eve Arnold: In Retrospect., 286.
8. Ibid., 288.
9. Ibid., 27
10. Ibid., 151.
11. Ibid., 165.
12. Ibid., 286.
13. Ibid., 113.
14. Ibid., 15.
15. Ibid., 13.
16. Ibid., 16.
Eve Arnold Handbook, (New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2004), introduction.

Magnum Photos coyright.

Daniel Pettus is a contributing writer for by such and such.