ALL ABOUT EVE
Eve Arnold was born on 21 April 1912 in Philadelphia, as the seventh of nine children to Rabbi William Cohen and his wife, Bessie. The couple had emigrated from Russia to the United States, fleeing anti-Semitic persecution. Despite William Cohen’s education, he could only secure employment as a pedlar, resulting in a childhood marked by financial hardship for Eve.
Initially aspiring to a medical career, Eve’s trajectory changed when she was working as a bookkeeper for a New York estate agency during the Second World War. A gift from a boyfriend, a Rolleicord camera, awakened her passion for photography. In 1943, she responded to a newspaper advertisement for an ‘amateur photographer’ and soon found herself managing America’s inaugural automated film-processing plant in Hoboken, New Jersey.
Her first major assignment came in 1950 when she covered fashion shows held in deconsecrated churches in Harlem. According to Brigitte Lardinois in ‘Eve Arnold’s People’ (2009), Eve pioneered a unique approach to fashion photography by capturing candid moments backstage, a departure from the staged studio photos that were the norm at the time.
During this period, American society was still deeply segregated, and mainstream publications rarely featured black individuals. However, Eve’s groundbreaking work found an international audience, notably in Europe. Displeased with the condescending captions used in Britain’s ‘Picture Post’, she resolved that her images would henceforth stand on their own merit.
In 1951, Eve approached Magnum Photos, a cooperative founded by Robert Capa and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Around the same time, Inge Morath joined Magnum’s Paris office, and together they became the agency’s first female photojournalists. Lardinois notes that Eve described Magnum as a ‘family’, a place where she absorbed storytelling techniques from Bresson, learnt the art of introducing light into her photos from Morath, and gleaned insights into technical discipline from Erich Hartmann, among others.
Elliott Erwitt, who met Eve at the start of his career, remembered her as a homemaker. Married with a young son, Eve was living in Port Jefferson, Long Island, and, according to Erwitt, may have viewed photography as an escape from the monotony of domestic life.
Despite her talents, Eve often found herself relegated to ‘women’s page’ assignments, a reflection of the gender biases at Magnum, as noted by Mary Panzer, a former curator at Washington’s National Portrait Gallery. Eve’s husband, industrial engineer Arnold Arnold, whom she married in 1948, encouraged her to cover the lives of black Southern workers who had migrated north.
Eve once wrote, “If a photographer cares about the people before the lens and is compassionate, much is given. It is the photographer, not the camera, that is the instrument.” This ethos is evident in her portraits, like the 1954 image of a vulnerable prostitute in a Havana brothel, admired by photographer Mary McCartney for its non-judgmental empathy.
Yet Eve also faced her share of critics, including her own mother, Bessie. Upon seeing Eve’s photographs of the first few minutes of a newborn’s life published in ‘Life’ magazine in 1954, Bessie inquired, “What’s to admire?”
MARLENE AND MARILYN
Eve Arnold first encountered the aura of Hollywood glamour when she photographed Marlene Dietrich during a recording session for ‘Esquire,’ an upmarket men’s magazine. Her introduction to Marilyn Monroe came later, at a Manhattan soirée hosted by John Huston at the renowned 21 Club. According to Eve, Marilyn quipped, “If you could do that well with Marlene, can you imagine what you could do with me?”
At that point, Marilyn was still a burgeoning star, having just landed a minor role in John Huston’s 1950 film, ‘The Asphalt Jungle.’ Their meeting could have occurred shortly thereafter, as they were introduced by photographer Sam Shaw, a friend of Monroe’s since 1951. By 1952, when Eve’s Dietrich story was published, Marilyn Monroe was steadily becoming a household name.
Eve became only one of three females to professional photograph Marilyn, alongside Jean Howard and Inge Morath.
In the early hours of an August morning in 1955, Marilyn Monroe, a chronic insomniac, called Eve Arnold. Monroe was flying out to Bement, Illinois, a town where her idol, Abraham Lincoln, had stayed during his historic debates with Senator Stephen Douglas in 1858. “I’m going to bring art to the masses,” Monroe declared. She scribbled a speech on the plane to Chicago and rehearsed it en route to Bement, evoking a misplaced sense of recent loss that, according to Arnold, made it sound as if it was President Eisenhower, not Lincoln, who had just passed away.
Arriving in Bement amid media frenzy, an exhausted Monroe briefly retreated before stepping out to engage with her public. She judged a Lincoln lookalike contest, admired local art, and delivered her speech. Arnold’s photographs from this eccentric episode capture a Marilyn who radiated genuine warmth, treating each fan — regardless of age or social standing — with equal grace.
SUMMER OF ’55
The duo met again during in the Summer of 1955 and that Labor Day weekend, they chose an abandoned playground near Mount Sinai, Long Island, to avoid a spectacle. Marilyn brought along multiple swimsuits and a copy of James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses,’ which she confessed to reading in fragments, captivated but also challenged by its complexity.
Eve seized the moment to photograph Marilyn reading Joyce, and these iconic images have since adorned countless publications. They continued to a deserted marshland just before 5 pm, often referred to as ‘the magic hour,’ when daylight turns most picturesque. Marilyn wore a leopard-print one-piece, delighting in the comedic juxtaposition of a “leopard in the bulrushes.”
“As the sunlight dimmed, she emerged, mud-caked but exhilarated and laughing,” Arnold remembered. “The session ended, but the captured moments remained, etched in the soft saffron hues of the setting sun.”
IT’S NOT JUST THE CAMERA SNAPPING…
In February of 1956, Eve found herself amidst the glitz and glamour of a press conference at New York’s Plaza Hotel, thanks to an invitation from Marilyn publicist, Lois Smith. The event was to announce Marilyn’s latest film venture (the only film she made with Marilyn Monroe Productions), ‘The Sleeping Prince.” The film would be featuring Sir Laurence Olivier and written by Sir Terence Rattigan, both of whom had flown in from London for the occasion.
Upon arriving early at Smith’s request, Eve made her way to an anxious Marilyn in her dressing room. “Marilyn was often paralysed by the prospect of tackling a problem,” Eve noted. “It’s not that she lacked commitment; rather, it was the initial leap into the fray that unsettled her.” This marked the first of many lengthy waits for Olivier and Rattigan.
Marilyn eventually emerged, resplendent in a black velvet gown. “Her alabaster skin and blonde hair created a striking contrast against her dark attire,” Eve mused. When complimented, Marilyn responded with a wink, saying, “Just watch me.”
Though not particularly fond of press conferences, Eve found her unique position as a female photographer advantageous. “My male colleagues always made way for me,” she said. The press conference was slow to start, dominated by a somewhat rigid Olivier. However, when Marilyn’s dress strap fortuitously snapped, the atmosphere shifted dramatically. Eve suspected this ‘accident’ was calculated. “Suddenly, the room came alive with laughter,” Eve recounted. “Marilyn had transformed a mundane press meet into an event.”
THE MISFITS, 1960
Fast forward to 1960, and Eve Arnold one of the many Magnum photographers in Reno, Nevada to cover the filming of ‘The Misfits.’ Marilyn, then 34 was visibly drained and in need of a break.
Eve was initially booked in for a two-week stint but ended up staying for two months. “Being a woman helped,” Eve explained. “It sidestepped the usual male-female dynamics my male counterparts often rely on to get intimate shots.”
Choosing to work without an assistant to maintain the delicate balance of their relationship, Eve was the only photographer granted access to Marilyn’s inner circle.
Eve observed the complexity of gaining Marilyn’s loyalty and her inner circle. “Marilyn sometimes questioned the authenticity of these relationships, considering they were on her payroll,” she said. “But their devotion was unwavering, never reduced to mere sycophancy.”
Through these intricate interactions and pivotal moments, Eve Arnold immortalised not just the icon, but the woman behind the myth — capturing Marilyn Monroe in her full complexity, framed against the unforgiving lens of fame.
As the crew wrapped up and headed back to Los Angeles, Marilyn proposed a studio session for publicity photographs at Paramount. Eve Arnold had reservations. “I’ve never been a fan of the artificial nature of studio photography, but Marilyn relished it,” she said. Despite her hesitancy, Eve acknowledged the advantages: “The studio environment offers an unmatched level of control. One can manipulate the lighting, the timing, and even the subject’s attire to achieve the desired outcome.”
“Marilyn had always fantasised about Gable being her father,” Eve recalled. “Now, she was sitting in front of proof sheets featuring her in a love scene with him, and she sighed, ‘Can you imagine what being kissed by him meant to me?'”
In the days that followed, Eve and Marilyn painstakingly sorted through the photographs. “Marilyn was quick to understand the nuances of photo editing,” Eve noted. “She would often acquiesce to my explanations, or we would engage in a spirited discussion until one of us gave in.”
ONE LAST TIME
By July 1961, Marilyn was recuperating from gallbladder surgery. Despite her frailty, she insisted on doing a small photo session with Eve at her New York apartment for a feature on her hairdresser, Kenneth Battelle. “She was her usual luminous self,” said Eve. “We used just one roll of film. I didn’t want to exhaust her.”
Eve had been invited to witness history a year later but could not oblige. The missed opportunity to photograph Marilyn singing ‘Happy Birthday’ to President Kennedy weighed heavily on Eve, especially after Marilyn’s untimely death in 1962. Reflecting on her relationship with Marilyn in a 1987 documentary, Eve Arnold expressed deep regret for missing that last chance to capture the enigmatic star.
“In our numerous interactions, what always struck me was the duality of Marilyn—her public persona juxtaposed with her private vulnerabilities,” Eve mused. “In many ways, she was an unretouched woman in a retouched industry. And perhaps that’s why the camera—and indeed the world—loved her so.”
KEEPING THE LEGACY ALIVE
Eve Arnold’s passing in London in 2012, at the age of 99, made headlines. Her portfolio straddled the worlds of glamour and the gritty reality of life, capturing everyone from celebrities to those on the margins of society.
For Michael, Eve was more than a grandmother; she was a “really cool woman that was like a friend and mentor,” replete with an endless trove of tales. Managing her extensive archive, he discovered her desire for photography to be universally accessible, recalling her first London exhibition where she sold prints at nominal prices, only to find dealers later selling them at a steep profit.
Michael’s recent endeavour to produce posters and affordable museum-quality prints aims to immortalise Eve’s legacy and acquaint new audiences with her oeuvre—themes still resonating today such as racism, sexism, and inequality, all imbued with humanity. He attributes her ethos of making photography available to her upbringing in a poor Russian Jewish immigrant family, a past that silently fuelled her artistic philosophy.
Out of an estimated quarter-million photographs taken by Arnold over her career, only a fraction has been digitised, hinting at the expansive, largely unexplored works that her photos represent. To fund this extensive process, Michael is selling archival print editions 10 x 12 museum-quality prints here for just £280.
Let me know what your favourite Eve Arnold photo is in the comments!