I met Arnold when I was working for Getty Images. He took one look at me, and later admitted that he was mad at Getty for sticking him with some young thing to work with. We had a good laugh about that. I let him know how "young" I was by knowing all the names of the artists and political figures that he had shot in the last few decades. He was impressed and our bond stood from that time on. He was my friend and he was a legend and I am honored to have had the chance to share some of life with him.
I have the last email he sent to me - after I told him how sorry I was to have to miss his National Arts Club Gold Medal Dinner,
"Dear Valerie, I really regret you couldn't make the 18th. But everyone had a great time, over 110 people and frankly, I loved every minute of it and can not "poo poo" the medal. Gus was there beside me and enjoyed the evening. I hope the next time you can come up with Kramer and I'll be well to meet you.
A short time later he was gone. His images remain as a testament to his life, that he was here, that he saw these shapes, the way the light fell and defined the people and times and he recorded them, forever. Or at least as long as forever holds true to a piece of photographic paper or negative.
He thought deeply about his legacy. He spoke to me often about wanting his work to live on, but he also wanted to "burn all the negatives" so they would not be printed poorly, and would not be shown to the world in forms that were less than what he had in mind for them. (He liked them dark!...very dark.)
He was an artist, but he knew the value in making commercial art. He knew the value of his photo credit, and he fought for it like a tiger.
He was proud of his name and his body of work. He loved making his art and wanted more than anything to be needed like he had been during his days with Life Magazine working with his favorite art director, Frank Zachary. He knew the phone wasn't ringing with offers like there had been in the past. Times had changed, but Arnold still dreamed of new works. I think that was the most beautiful thing about Arnold, he had lived a storied life, and had taken historic portraits of acclaimed people, and he still dreamed of new ways to see. He still had ideas that he wanted to fulfill artistically. He got incensed when asked about retiring.
"How does an artist retire? How can you retire from being creative? Do you retire from being yourself??!!"
Every one of his photographs allowed him to tell a story-- when I was working with him, each time a print was brought out and he caught a glimpse of that part of his life, his lived past, the captured moment which he experienced. He took a journey and shared it with who ever had the time to listen. He was compiling thoughts for his memoirs and often made notes on scraps of paper about things to expound upon in more detail for his book. He also had a small tape recorder that he spoke his thoughts into. He was very aware of the time he had left.
The time he didn't have, and the time he had lived and what it would take to actually record his thoughts properly. He was like a man climbing a personal Mount Everest. He wanted to remain necessary to the culture he was in. He wanted to record the faces and personalities that shaped history, past and present. He wanted new heroes and his old heros, he ended up knowing personally.
"How are things Arnold?"
"The usual! Oye, snowed under, trying to catch up, correspondence, everyone wants a piece of me these days. Come for lunch. I want to see you, papers can wait, people can't."
I always got the sense from Arnold that he was in a race against time.
He thought nothing of climbing up a two story ladder in his Studio to get the light just right. I caught him coming down on the rickety rungs and he looked a bit shaken, saying, "maybe I AM getting too fat for that thing!"
His person, was made of the kind of stuff that "they don't make them like that anymore" out of. He may have been difficult. He confided in me that he felt like he was too tough on his interns, but then he winked and also confided that he liked to test people's limits.
He loved and admired his family, and his wife Augusta was always at the top of his list. He knew that he would never have been able to achieve what he had done in life without her by his side. He was old fashioned. He was a gentleman but no gentle man. He told you what he thought, when he thought of it, and then maybe thought better of it later. He was never above an apology or a compliment. He had more energy than most men half his age.
I knew him at the end of his Age. I am grateful to have called him friend. I can hear him speaking about Max Ernst in the chair from Peggy Guggenheim, and the way he tortured Robert Oppenheim with a long exposure, in which his cigarette ash stayed aloft and whole for a surreal amount of time. How Marilyn Monroe was the saddest person he ever met. The way Picasso flirted with Gus and how Gus usually made a sound like "phooey" every time Arnold told the story. He told stories more than once, but he usually added something new each time.
Projected through the beam of his voice, I began to see his work in CinemaScope. I think that was his intent, to pass on as much information as he could remember so his work would be forever vital, to grab hold of one more person, and take them on his journey.
Thank you Arnold. You are missed.