Eve Arnold and the story of The Unretouched Woman
On the anniversary of her birth, how the photo legend waited until she was in her sixties before making a book
New York-born photographer Eve Arnold waited until she was in her sixties before she decided to publish her first book. When she did, she was clear about its subject: ‘This is a book about how it feels to be a woman, seen through the eyes and the camera of one woman - images unretouched, for the most part unposed, and unembellished.’
Arnold, who was born on this day in 1912 was already one of the foremost photographers of her time. Equally at ease photographing potato pickers in Long Island and the Queen of England, Arnold selected subjects ranging from a nomad bride in the Hindu Kush to Zulu women in a South African hospital, harems in Abu Dhabi, barmaids in Cuba, a fencing mistress in a British school, African American women marching for civil rights in Virginia, and her famous portraits of Marilyn Monroe.
The Unretouched Woman took shape over several trips to New York, London and Mexico. Arnold set up a darkroom and started printing images from a career that spanned twenty-five years of photographing women. The book features Arnold’s first reportage, about a behind-the-scenes fashion show of black women in Harlem in 1950, a story that led to her association with Magnum in 1951. She became a full member in 1957, one of the first women, along with Inge Morath, to join the cooperative.
The book’s cover depicts four neat piles of colour slides arranged in front of a lightbox on which further slides are illuminated, while a simple interior layout features Arnold’s texts (written on a veranda in Cuernavaca, Mexico) alternating with a mix of black-and-white and colour images, which together build a circuitous narrative through diverse countries and social classes.
Arnold worked with her publisher, Bob Gottlieb, editorin- chief at Alfred A. Knopf, on the picture editing and monitored the printing of the final selection. The Unretouched Woman was published in the United States in late 1976 and a few months later in Great Britain to considerable attention, including interviews, reviews, a twenty-five minute film for the BBC, and excerpts in the Sunday Times Magazine.