Born In 1918 in New York, Newman grew up surrounded by the Arts and studied Painting and Drawing. Newman’s exposure to portrait photography came after he was forced to leave university for financial reasons and moved to Philadelphia. He procured a role working for a photographic Portrait studio. While “turning out hundreds of 49-cent portraits …I came to understand the importance of interacting with the people in front of my lens. 1” Newman worked as a Freelance photographer for many of New York’s most notable magazines before becoming one of the most recognized portrait photographers of the 20th Centuries most renowned Photographers.
Although he dislikes the phrase, Newman pioneered the style “environmental portraiture.” This style captures the personality of the subject by placing them in a setting that shows their personality and profession.
Newman uses very carefully planned portraiture with strong lighting, his portraits appear to highlight the character of his subjects. Not just the setting, but the lighting and positioning of the subject peaks volumes about the character of the subjects. Some may consider his works to be unflattering or too strong, but I feel he strips away the surface of a persona to the real person underneath. An excellent example of this is his Marilyn Monroe portrait.
Newman’s attitude to portraiture and art in general is summed up in this quote from his book “A Life in Photography” “The truly innovative artists create ideas and images unrelated to anything we have experienced or seen before, new ways of seeing and thinking about our own familiar worlds. This is the real creative artist we all aspire to be.2”
Frank LLoyd Wright (1947)
This is a classic example of environmental portraiture. the sketch behind Wright is of his most prominent work ‘Falling Water.’ The most interesting aspect of this piece is the juxtaposition of the sketch and the table against the black ground. it is highly evocative of Wright’s architecture with unusual floating shapes and angles.
Marc Chagall (1942)
This is a less typical Environmental portraiture piece – Chagall appears to be emerging from his painting. The fascinating element here is the way the light on Chagall closely matches the light in the painting so that it is almost as if he and his painting are one.
Pablo Picasso (1954)
This portrait is not an environmental piece but still evokes Picasso’s personality. The heavy shadows and the wrinkles created by the placement of his hand evoke some of the linear aspects of his cubist pieces.
Marilyn Monroe (1962)
This portrait typifies the quote above. Marilyn Monroe has been seen so many ways and been so highly photographed that the challenge was to show her, not only in a way that no one has no-one before but also in a way that shows her as a real person. This portrait achieves both.