Working as a Commissioning Editor at Thames & Hudson can present you with the most wonderful opportunities to work with great and exceptional people. Brigitte Lardinois and I had the pleasure of working with Eve Arnold on her book Eve Arnold’s People. As many of you will know from the recent news coverage, Eve Arnold, photographer and member of Magnum Photos, died last week at the age of 99, just a few months off what would have been her hundredth birthday.
Brigitte was in touch with me that day. We both shared our memories of working on the book and of the effect that Eve clearly had on all who worked with her or who had contact with her or, even from afar, were touched by her work. Brigitte, who knew Eve for many years, agreed that she would put together a few words to get across what it was like dealing with the life’s work of an exceptional photographer. Over to Brigitte:
What made working on Eve Arnold’s People so unusual was that, unlike every other publishing project or exhibition of her work (I worked with her on her exhibition In Retrospect, and its accompanying book), this was the first time where, because of Eve’s age and increasing frailty, she relinquished her well-known control and editorial grip. This was at the same time a challenge, an honour and a fresh opportunity. How do you say and show something new when the photographer – and Eve was as skilled a writer as she was a photographer – is no longer in the driving seat? We decided that, for the text, the best way was to look outwards and, as Eve had enjoyed such a long and fruitful career, to invite those who knew her to write about her. They included those she had worked with, such as Beeban Kidron; or colleagues, such as Elliott Erwitt; those who were the subject of her work, such as Anjelica Huston and Isabella Rossellini; or friends or admirers of her work, such as John Tusa, Jon Snow, David Puttnam and Mary McCartney.
We had the extraordinary and privileged task of editing the photographs with the book’s designer, Maggi Smith, and Linni Campbell, Eve’s assistant of 40 years. We set out to emphasize what made Eve such a brilliant photographer. We didn’t just include the portraits of the famous – such as Marilyn Monroe, the subject with whom Eve will be forever associated – but work that brought her into the Magnum fold in the first place, such as the photo stories on Long Island Migrant Workers or of the Harlem Fashion Show. This work contains the spirit that ran through all that followed – an innate understanding of people and an ability to represent them in a way that never felt forced or artificial, even in such cases as her photographs of Malcolm X, who was notorious for rigorously controlling his public image.
When the texts began to arrive, it was so clear that the warmth in Eve’s work had rubbed off on all the contributors; each person didn’t just talk about the images, but about Eve as a person.
The word ‘legendary’ is much abused these days and is a label used with little thought about the person or career that it is being applied to. But in Eve’s case it is richly deserved – and not just as ‘legendary photographer’, but as a person as well. This echoes the sentiments that were coming in from all of those who worked with Eve. We all mourn the passing not just of a great photographer, but of a great human being.
A memorial exhibition of Eve Arnold’s greatest works goes on show in London from March, 2012.
Please note Eve Arnold’s People has now sold out.