Eve Arnold: Capturing Intimacy Through the Lens – A Glimpse into the Forlì Exhibition

I was lucky enough to visit the exhibition dedicated to Eve Arnold at the Museum of San Domenico in Forlì last weekend, organized in collaboration with CAMERA – Centro Italiano per la Fotografia in Turin, where the exhibition was originally organized.

In this first stop in Forlì, 160 photographs of the famous American photographer who was one of the most influential voices in 20th-century photography, are on display.

She was born to Russian immigrant parents of Jewish heritage, and her story begins with a small lie that would forever change the course of her life. Despite never having taken photography courses, Eve declared herself a photographer after her then-boyfriend gifted her a camera. This gift allowed her to start capturing the world through her lens.

Self-portrait of Eve Arnold in a distorting mirror, New York City, 42nd Street, 1950.

Eve enrolled in a photography course in 1948, offered by the New School for Social Research in New York, where she was taught by Alexey Brodovitch, the then-director of Harper’s Bazaar. This encounter marked the beginning of her career, especially when she was assigned to take photographs on the subject of fashion.

Initially underestimated for her work, everything changed when she showcased the photographs taken during the fashion shows in Harlem’s African-American community. These shots depicted the backstage reality, unfiltered images of women, the desire to stand out, the need to be different, and yet, to be just like everyone else.

Eve Arnold | Fashion in Harlem Modelling shoes at the Abyssinian Church. Harlem, New York, USA. 1950. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos

These photographs were considered scandalous for their time, and impressed by New York shots, Henri Cartier-Bresson invited her and Inge Morath to join the prestigious Magnus group in 1951. They were the first women in the photography group.

I don’t see anybody as either ordinary or extraordinary. I see them simply as people in front of my lens.

Eve Arnold

Her most famous images capture Hollywood icons in moments of intimacy and vulnerability, revealing their human side rather than the gods of the silver screen. Photographs like those of Marilyn Monroe on the set of “The Misfits” in 1961 or the intensive beauty treatments of actress Joan Crawford, obsessed with perfection, shed light on lesser-known and more intimate aspects.

Eve Arnold | Marilyn Monroe: An Appreciation Actress Marilyn Monroe on the set of ‘The Misfits’. Nevada, USA. 1960. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos

Simultaneously, Eve’s work extended to documenting the boundaries of society, from poverty to labour strikes to the condition of women. Her enduring connection with the African-American community is evident, as exemplified by her profound portrait of Malcolm X, a privilege few photographers were granted.

Eve Arnold | Malcolm X during his visit to enterprises owned by Black Muslims. Chicago. Illinois. USA. 1962. © Eve Arnold | Magnum Photos

In the latter part of her long career, Eve ventured on numerous occasions into the East but her photographs always continued to reveal the invisible, particularly describing the role of women, which remained a constant theme.

“Themes recur again and again in my work. 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.”

Eve Arnold

She passed away at 99 years old, leaving behind her extensive photographic archive, which she selflessly donated to Yale University as her final act of altruism to serve as an inspiration for young photography students.

Ferdinando Scianna | Eve Arnold during Les Rencontres de la Photographie. France, Arles, 1988

The exhibition dedicated to Eve Arnold will be open for visitors until January 7, 2024: https://mostremuseisandomenico.it/uk-version/

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