Double Visions from Arnold to Horvat
by Holly Hildebrand
When Eve Arnold showed her portfolio to Robert Capa, he said, "Your work, metaphorically, of course, falls between Marlene Dietrich's legs and the bitter lives of migratory potato pickers."
And, as if to drive home the point, the curators of "Eve Arnold: In Retrospect," shown at the Menil Collection as part of FotoFest, hung Marlene Dietrich, recording session, New York, 1952 next to the series on migrant workers Arnold shot on Montauk, Long Island, in 1951.
Yet this juxtaposition of glamorous star in a closed setting versus the mundane, bleak lives of men, women and children scrabbling for a living in a big world set against them is far from being the only one to point up the dichotomous theme in Arnold's work. Throughout the retrospective, the viewer sees Arnold tackling projects that are polar opposites of each other: the mystical, quietly joyous Childbirth and Baby and mother's hands five minutes after birth, both taken in Port Jefferson, Long Island, in 1959, hang in the same room as the despairing portrait of the beautiful Ear girl in a. brothel, Havana, 1954 and the disturbing Milltown experiment insane asylum, Haiti, 1954, with its child wearing filthy rags and an almost accusingly lonely stare. Even in the photographs themselves, Arnold takes care to show us the opposites; for all of her sensuality, Marilyn Monroe is sadly awkward with her soon-to-be-estranged husband in Arthur Miller demonstrates (withMarilyn Monroe) steps appropriate for a scene in The Misfits, Nevada., 1960. The portrait of the smiling and confident .RoyCohn and Joseph McCarthy, House Committee on Un-American Activities, Washington, 1954 contains an element of censure in the background in the almost grim image of an elderly man, his face and dress, complete with old-fashioned hat and bow tie, prototypical American. In Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor during the filming of Becket, Shepperton, England, 1963 the actor and actress are shown at the height of the scandal surrounding their love affair, Miss Taylor's face, despite all the public vilification she was bearing, glowing white and pure like the mask of a Madonna.
Arnold's preoccupation with opposites can be startlingly complex, loading her images with humor and tenderness while at the same time facing tough public issues head on. One of the most striking examples of this is Integration Party, Alexandria,Va., 1958, in which two little girls, one white, one black, but both with the same name of Stratford, smile broadly at each other as they share a dinner table. And there's a determined love that shines through the depiction of grim social conditions in Saturday night bath, South Ormsby, England, 1963, the portrait of a mother washing her youngest baby in a metal tub while the rest of her brood watches TV, the wash, hung carefully, drying above them.
Arnold says she came to photography by accident, when a boyfriend gave her a $40 Rolleicord and taught her how to use it. It was 1950, and two of the photographs in the retrospective celebrate the beginning of her career. In Self-portrait the year I started photography, Philadelphia, 1950, her smooth, young face floats in the middle of blackness, the edges of the images cracked as if by age; it is a newcomer meeting the history of her recently adopted profession. In Self-portrait in a distorting mirror, 42nd Street, New Tork, 1950 an elongated Arnold, turned away from the stretched and shadowy figures of the street scene, her camera aimed at not just the mirror but also the viewer of photography, seems to be asking not only herself but us what part illusion and what part truth lie in photography.
It is a question that Arnold tweaks in one of the strangest series in the retrospective, the photographs that were part of the 1959 Life magazine essay on Joan Crawford. Crawford wanted Arnold to show the public how hard it had been to maintain her image as a star for thirty years, and for three months one of the vainest of actresses cast aside all illusion of effortless beauty to have Arnold detail her fierce beauty regimen. Arnold captured the half-dressed star in a girdle in Joan Crawford dress fitting, New Tork, 1959; on the massage table with a white poodle climbing over her back, and, close-up and looking like a car-wreck survivor, as the bandages swathing her face were removed in Joan Crawford undergoing a beauty treatment, New Tork, 1959. Close-ups of Crawford curling her eyelashes, applying eye makeup and putting on lip pencil(Joan Crawford makeup session, 1959) reveal not only the arduousness of her image-making, but, in a most moving way, the pores of her humanity. Crawford even had Arnold photograph her as her legs were waxed, and she stripped naked too— pictures that Arnold did not use. The photographer called it the "most personal story I ever did—but she wanted it so." And, as if to make a point about Crawford's grand use of artifice, the series hangs next to a large close-up portrait ofIsabella Rossellini, Finland, 1985 who, in a sort of virginal repose, seems the very personification of natural beauty.
The illusions created by societies and not just their celebrities are also strong themes in Arnold's work, and some of her most affecting work in this regard includes the photographs she took in the former Soviet Union during several visits. Grimness, not joy at what the future holds, is the emotional center of Newlyweds cele-brate at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Moscow, 1978 a photograph in which nobody appears to be celebrating anything at all. It is accompanied byDivorce, Moscow, 1966 in which a couple, just as grim as the newlyweds of the future, look determinedly away from each other as they await a decision on their marital future in a dark, cold office. The cynical use of psychiatry lies at the heart ofPsychiatric Hospital, Moscow, 1996 in which two attendants giggle in a corner as a psychiatrist interviews a woman in the foreground. And although one has to move between rooms to note it, the hypocrisy of the free world has also been captured by Arnold’s camera: compare the loneliness and meanness of Old age home, Cottswolds, England, 1961, to the misty, aristocratic beauty of The Marquis of Bath at a shoot, Longleat England, 1961. Or, for that matter, don't leave the United States: the black migrant workers whose grim lives Arnold documents inhabit the same island and nearly the same time as the Davis family, whose members happily peel apples in idyllic summer settings in Miss Davis peeling apples forchurch supper pies, Miller Place, Long Island, 1958 and eat satisfying dinners a few feet away from the graveyard holding the bones of their ancestors, who, unlike the migrants' ancestors, have not been forgotten (The Davis family church supper, Mount Sinai, Long Island, 1952).
Arnold considers her work in China, culminating in the book In China, to be most the exciting assignment of her professional life. Long eager to work in that country, she was not granted a visa until 1979, when diplomatic relations with the United States were resumed. Arnold calls the mood then euphoric, and her pictures show it: among the few in the retrospective that are shot in color, the photographs depict happy, fat-faced toddlers, Nursery in a cotton mill, Beijing,1979; proud cultural groups, Folk song group, Inner Mongolia, 1979; and tenderness of man for beast in lush landscapes,Horse training for the militia, Inner Mongolia, 1979. There's an exaltation of technology, too; in Shanghai, 1979, a TV set is lovingly balanced on two stacked tables that resemble a shrine. But perhaps one of the most famous images from Arnold's China work is Retired worker, Gwelin, China, 1979, a woman whose lined face and deep eyes seem to hold all the wisdom and trials of her country.
China was not the only culture to fire Arnold's imagination. While working in Tunisia in the late 1960s, she was intrigued by a plea from the country's president for women to come out from "behind the veil" and enter the twentieth century. So began Arnold's trek through the forbidden women's world of Afghanistan, Egypt and the harems of the Arab Emirates, an investigation of which once again brought forth the dichotomous nature of her work. For, even though these women have hidden most if not all of their faces, mystery, fierceness and power still radiate from them: one needs only to gaze in the dark eyes of Veiled woman, Dubai, 1969, to feel her threatening force, and even though the Three widows on their way to their mutual bus-band's grave (Kabul, Afghanistan), 1969 are completely covered, one feels a strength of purpose combined with a sort of terror in their personas. In contrast, Veiled woman in harem, Abu Dhabi, Arab Emirates, 1970 is serenely beautiful in her spangled elegance, and there is an eerie passivity to Bride awaits husband she has never seen(Afghanistan), 1969.
While Arnold was inspired by these woman forced to bow to the wishes of a patriarchal society, she was also intrigued by women who purposely cut themselves off from the society of men. The result was a project in which she photographed the cloistered world of the Brides of Christ in Goldaming, England, in 1965. After two years of work designed to see if they are suited to the nun's life, the postulants of this order dress as brides, complete with long dresses, veils, and orange blossoms. A lock of their hair is cut, and a wedding cake is served. They work and pray for three more years, then are ready to take final vows. In a series of almost ethereal black-and-white photographs that also capture the earthly joy of the Brides of Christ, Arnold depicts their rituals: five brides happily watching another creating their three-tier wedding cake; a serene-faced young woman praying as the lock of hair is cut from her head; four brides chatting almost excitedly at their wedding. How in contrast they are with Arnold's portrait, hanging across the room, of a veilless Indira Gandhi, power personified, speaking in Uttar Pradesh in 1974.
Eve Arnold's work spilled over into another FotoFest exhibit,"Magnum and the Cinema, 50 Years of Filmmaking." Magnum was a co-op of photographers founded in 1947 by Henri Carder-Bresson, George Rodger, David Seymour and Robert Capa. Capa's friendship with director and actor John Huston was crucial to not only Magnum but the film industry, providing the link that resulted in many images of the makers and makings of the cinema.
Arnold was one of the prestigious photographers invited to join Magnum Photos, and some of the photographs shown in her retrospective also appeared in the Magnum exhibit. One of the most moving was Marilyn Monroe resting in BernertIllinois, where she spent a publicity tour, 1955; both lovely and lonely as she sleeps, the picture seems a premonition for Monroe's sad death seven years later. In another Monroe shot, also shown in the retrospective, Arnold captures the actress in a pensive, rather exhausted mood as Monroe thinks through lines on the set of The Misfits in 1960.
Indeed, sadness and loneliness fill the images of cinema celebrated in this show to such an extent that it is almostimpossible to find a truly joyous picture. Two stand out: a laughing Marilyn Monroe, 1960 by Dennis Stock and Wayne Miller's Ava Gardner in car behind steering wheel in On the Beach, 1959 a series of three in which a jaunty, devil-may-care actress throws her hair and everything else to the wind. But pictures of the aloneness, even the torment of the cinema's stars prevail: there's Arnold's isolated Marlene Dietrich in the studios of Columbia Records, New Tork City, 1952 her head averted from the camera; Stock's shot of James Dean strolling through a rainy Times Square in 1955, with the legend: "Inmany ways, James felt more at home in New York than in Los Angeles;" Arnold's Elizabeth Taylor with her children on the set o/Becket, starring Richard Burton, 1963 with the star enveloped in darkness and misery.
If the separateness of the artist is a major theme of this exhibition, so is the illusion of the cinema. A great many of the pictures use mirrors to make their statements and create their effects; in Raymond Depardon's Jean-Paul Bel-mondo in Robert Enrico's "HoP, the star surveys himself in a slightly damaged mirror on which is taped a headline that reads, translated from French, "The most beautiful of the century." Old women are reflected in an antique mirror as star and director play chess in Erich Lessing's Anthony Quinn with Michael Cacoyannis—the director of Zorba the Greek, 1964 and an old-fashioned mirror hanging over the star and director captures the activities on the set in Stock's Stella Garcia and Dennis Hopper, actor and director of the Last Movie, 1970. As if to make absolutely clear the importance of mirrors in the cinema, cans of film stacked are reflected in the foreground of Martine Franck's Portrait of Agnes Vardas at her home in the rue Daguerre, Paris, 1983. The cinema could not exist without its directors, and with wit and feeling, the Magnumphotographers looked through their lenses to show others in the process of looking through their own. Two levels of reality are portrayed in Costas Manos' Elia Kazan to the left of the crew gesticulating, filming America America, 1962 and Rene Burri captures the great Japanese director in Akira Kurosawa at the camera, 1961. There are even camera taking pictures of cameras whose pictures are being taken, as in Don McCullen's shot of David Hemmings in Michelangelo Antonioni'sB\ow-Up, 1966.
But if cinema is about illusion, perhaps no series of photographs in this show better illustrates it than Rene Burri's Ingrid Bergman and Mel Ferrer in Elena et les Hommes. A series of three photographs shows the stars being coached in one of the most intimate of human activities, a kiss. They seem ill at ease, clumsy students as they listen to their director. But a fourth, larger picture shows the result: perfect, convincing, utterly human. A lens shows up another lens.
When Frank Horvat began his photography career in the 1940s and 1950s, his aim was to create "photo-
reportage" and "seize spontaneity." It was as a fashion photographer that Horvat became famous, however, and his insistence on taking models out of the studio and into the real world was his trademark. Yet for all his emphasis on spontaneity, his models still seemed elevated beyond the real world, true "mannequins"—French for model— in a living, breathing world. It is this tension between the profane and the sacred, the exquisite and the ordinary that makes Horvat a true original.
Many of Horvat's pictures are masterpieces of the juxtaposition between the real and the unreal: take, for instance, Rome (for Harper's Bazaar New Tork) Deborah Dixon (model) with Antero Piletti (writer), 1962. Half of Piletti's face eyes us as he scoops up a forkful of linguine; Dixon wears such an elaborate, heavy veil that no linguine could ever near her with any success, much less elegance. In Paris (for E\\c) with Michael Horvat, 1958 the photographer's young son tickles the modelwith a feather. Yet she keeps her composure as well as any guard at the Tower of London; she is a model of a model beyond the sensations of ordinary women.
Even when Horvat takes his models out into the streets, he likes to maintain their other-worldliness. In Paris, au aChien qui Fume" (for Jardin des Modes j, 1956 two models strike humorous poses while they are perfectly posed in the window of a commuter train. Off to the right, however, a man of the ordinary world looks out of a window himself, in a perfectly natural, curious pose. In New York, 1960, a model moving through the streets wears an impeccable suit and a far-off look even as men crowd her and gape at her; in an accompanying picture, she manages a shadow of a smile when the shadow of man passes over her body.
Yet the man who created as formal a shot as the two models sitting on pillars and puffing elegantly on slim cigars (Londres, for English Vogue, 1959) could also create the perfectly natural picture of two women unabashedly and naturally enjoying their cigarettes (Paris, for Harper's Bazaar New York, Iris Bianchi, model, with Marie-Louis Bousquet, writer). He shoots model Judy Dent ever so naturally leading children down a street in Yorkshire, Angleterre (for English Vogue), 1961. And it is the model, not the stableman, who shows the greatest lack of formalism and purest amount of humanity in the rather mystical Londres (for English Voguej, 1959.
Fashion before life or life before fashion? The black platform shoes that dwarf not only a family but the Eiffel Tower (Paris, for Stern, 1968) seem to say the former, but the exquisite photograph from 1957, its model, wrapped in a white creation through which we see only one eye, seems to say the opposite, albeit in a humorous way. Look into me, not at me, is the message, even as five men behind her are turned away, their binoculars trained, a la Ascot, on something in the distance. •
Holly Hildebrand is an editor for Houston Chronicle Interactive and a local writer. Her fiction and an essay recently appeared in The Breast: An Anthology, Global City Press.