London show unveils photographer Eve Arnold's compassion

LONDON (Reuters) - “Intimacy allows the person being photographed to be uninhibited and to reveal unknown aspects of herself.”

The words of the late Eve Arnold displayed at London’s Art Sensus gallery convey the American photographer’s relationship with her subjects.

“All About Eve: The Photography of Eve Arnold,” features stills that defined Arnold’s 50-year career before she died in January, just months short of her 100th birthday. The exhibition, which opened in early March, demonstrates her expertise in capturing the unguarded moments of her subjects.

Born Eve Cohen to Russian-Jewish parents in 1912, she grew up in a poor Philadelphia neighborhood. Although she shot politicians, movie stars and artists, her upbringing left her with an enduring interest in society’s poorest.

“Her legacy is the way she was able to portray every person, no matter how poor or rich, with the same amount of dignity,” show curator and Arnold friend Brigitte Lardinois said.

One of her photographs, “There is no crèche” features children of migrant potato pickers on Long Island lying in boxes, barely big enough to hold their small bodies. While waiting for their parents, one child drinks from a bottle while another searches for a playmate.

Another of Arnold’s pieces on display focuses on a young black girl standing on the porch of an asylum in Haiti, where American drug companies tested early tranquillizers. The girl - no older than 16 - wears a shapeless frock, her arms crossed over prominent collarbones, and looking miserable.

Arnold’s friend and long-time collaborator Zelda Cheatle told Reuters how the photographer caught her subjects at their most vulnerable.

” had a small stature and went grey early in her life, so at the same time of having an air of authority, she was also very discreet,” Cheatle said. “She could go unnoticed in all sorts of circumstances.”

This kind of transparency in her work earned her a spot at Magnum, one of the premiere photography agencies in the world. Though Arnold was the first woman to join the company, she hated being called a “female photographer.”

Cheatle added, however, Arnold would sometimes use her gender to her advantage.

“Sometimes she used the fact that she was a gain access to people and places that nobody else could get to,” Cheatle clarified. “Malcolm X, for example, is the sort of person she might not have been able to work with, had she been a big-muscled man.”

In her pictures of the controversial figure, this hands-off approach shines through. One scene shows Malcolm X speaking at a 1961 rally in Washington D.C. Arnold snapped the photo as he collected donation boxes while standing below a banner that read, “There is no God but Allah.”

The print conveys the charged energy of Black Muslim movement in America and Arnold said covering the event was as intense as it looks on film.

“I wore a woolen black jumper because I knew it wouldn’t burn in case anything happened,” recalled Arnold in a short film at the exhibition. “But, at the end of the rally, I noticed the back of my sweater was polka-dotted with cigarette burns.”

Always the determined artist, Arnold was undeterred and went on to work with big-name celebrities. Her portfolio features Siân Phillips playfully carrying Peter O’Toole in her arms to celebrate his performance of “Hamlet” at London’s Old Vic Theatre.

It includes a picture of a young Queen Elizabeth II looking at the sky as rain falls, a childlike grin on her face. Joan Crawford gazes at her reflection in the mirror, wearing a slightly crazed smile in another photo.

Arnold became most famous, though, for her work with actress Marilyn Monroe.

In a quote from the exhibition, Arnold said, “Marilyn Monroe...runs like a thread through my work of the fifties in America...Neither of us knew very much about her chosen métier, but this formed a bond between us.”

The two women formed a relationship over a decade as Arnold attempted to capture Monroe when she dropped her public persona.

Some of the portraits came from the mountains of Nevada where Monroe shot “The Misfits” in 1960. In these photographs, Monroe looks unsure of herself and even lost.

In one photo, she bites her nails and appears to be deep in thought. Though her bloodshot eyes are barely visible beneath heavy black eyeliner, the adjacent photo shows a pensive actress in a rare, authentic moment.

According to Cheatle, these are the kinds of photos which define Arnold’s work.

“The photographs and the person are very closely linked. They both have immense empathy and compassion.”

Editing by Paul Casciato