Even if you've never heard of Arnold Newman, chances are you've seen his work. For 60 years, his photographic portraits of leading 20th century figures representing all manner of celebrity appeared on the pages of Life, Newsweek and Fortune -- back when weekly magazines were found on coffee-tables in American homes, not just doctors' and dentists' waiting rooms.
"Arnold Newman: Luminaries of the Twentieth Century in Art, Politics and Culture," a traveling exhibit now at Hofstra University Museum's Emily Lowe Gallery, brings 64 of his biographic images into a gathering of famous faces -- most of them gone now, but none forgotten.
ENVIRONMENTAL PORTRAITURE What made his work unique was the context in which the celebrity artist, politician or sports figure was photographed. Recognized as the "Father of Environmental Portraiture," Newman, a Manhattan native who died at 88 in 2006, was the first to take full advantage of the portability of photographic tools. Rather than have the subjects of his artistry pose in his studio, he packed his camera, tripod and lighting equipment and hauled it to Yankee Stadium to shoot Mickey Mantle at work, or to Jackson Pollock's studio in Springs to capture paint dripping on a canvas spread on the barn floor, or to young John F. Kennedy's Senate office on Capitol Hill.
"Technology allowed him to take himself into the world of the person he was photographing," says Karen Albert, the Hofstra museum's associate director of exhibitions and collections. "But he was a pioneer in creating this type of portrait."
"The setting in which he placed the person he's focusing on is as essential to our view of the individual as the person himself," says Beth Levinthal, executive director of the Hofstra museum. "He places Andy Warhol in a way that's so evocative of his work; Stravinsky at his piano; Woody Allen writing on a notepad. . . ."
"His work has changed the definition of the photographic portrait," says Albert. "It seems intuitive now that you should shoot someone in the surroundings that define them, but no one was doing that until Arnold Newman showed them how."
WORTH A THOUSAND WORDS Albert writes in an introduction to the exhibit catalog: "Influenced by early photographers such as Alfred Stieglitz and the school of modernism, Newman developed a unique visual style and technique. His portraits show both his talent as a photographer and his ability to capture the personality of his subjects."
Newman's photographic hall of fame includes many Long Islanders or those who greatly influenced Island life, such as master builder Robert Moses. Artists Willem de Kooning, Roy Lichtenstein and Pollock are caught at work in their Hamptons studios.
These photographs may have appeared next to 1,000-word articles about their lives and careers. You might have perused the text. Or you might have just glanced at Newman's photos and gotten a sense of who they were.
WHEN | WHERE Emily Lowe Gallery, Hofstra University Museum, Hempstead. Reception: 4-6 p.m. Tuesday; hours: 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, 1-4 p.m. weekends through Dec. 13
ADMISSION Free; hofstra.edu/museum, 516-463-5672