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    dinner with arnold
by Ysabel de la Rosa
 
     
 
Piet Mondrian
Arnold Newman
1942
 
Igor Stravinsky
1946
 
Pablo Picasso
1954
 
Marilyn Monroe
1962
 
Self-portrait
1997
 
Otto Frank
1960
 
The dinner guests
 
Francis Bacon
1975
They came bearing gladiolas. With their abundant peach-colored bouquet, photographer Arnold Newman and his wife Augusta, guests of honor at a dinner given by artist Mil Lubroth, made the final decorative addition to the oval dining room. A nice touch from the "father of the environmental portrait."

Newman was on the next-to-last day of his stay in Madrid, where his show "50 Years of Arnold Newman" was one of the highlights of PhotoEspaña 1998. The show was funded by Fundación Barrié de la Maza and included 136 of his best-known portraits, including those of Capote, Picasso, Mondrian, Stravinsky and Francis Bacon. Earlier the photographer had delivered a lecture to a standing-room-only crowd that spilled out of the auditorium and into the street, where his commentary was broadcast on closed-circuit television.

"I felt badly that there was not enough room for everyone," said Newman. "When I first saw the auditorium, I knew it was not going to be big enough, but I didn't want to say anything to the organizers."

Newman is a quiet star, which only adds to his charm. Lines of people seek his autograph and counsel. How should they keep working to become like him -- a real (and famous) photographer? He gave encouragement. "Remember," he told his audience, "photography is one percent talent and 99 percent moving furniture."

It was easy to see why Newman has had such success in portrait photography, that very human art. He is earnest, easy to be around, a good conversationalist and has a great sense of humor. And he maintains his artistic authority. Writer Jesús García Calero called Newman a "warrior-photographer who knows just how to disarm his subjects."

Newman met Augusta in New York when she was working for Haganah, the underground organization that helped establish Israel. Augusta is a good match for the artist -- calm, poised, intelligent, with her own brand of philosophical humor. I couldn't take my eyes off her perfectly round, black-rimmed glasses, a bold visual statement if I ever saw one.

Newman seated himself on a plush couch, the kind that sinks the spine in softness and does not easily relinquish its prey. As the guests arrived, Arnold would look up at everyone, shake hands, smile and say, "You know, I can't get up. I just can't get up." It didn't matter. People perched on couch arms, nearby chairs and foot stools, settling in a circle around the photographer-raconteur.

Twelve of us were in the lucky circle:
Natasha Seseña, a ceramics curator and author of numerous books on Spanish ceramics. The Seseña family make the famous "capes of Spain." First Lady Hillary Clinton and Michael Jackson have been known to sport Seseña capes.

Jacinta Nadal, sculptor and dancer, wife of author Rafael Nadal. Rafael Nadal was the person to whom Federico García Lorca gave his poetry manuscripts before his death at the hands of Spain's Guardia Civil.

Journalist Gil Carbajal, amateur photographer and English-language reporter for Radio Nacional de España; British writer Gillian Watling; Margareta Schaeder, representative for the Swedish Chamber of Commerce and her husband, exporter-importer Bertram Schaeder; painter Pepe López and his wife Joan Keyser López, an international library consultant; choreographer Felipe Sánchez; and last but not least, hostess and host, artist Mil Lubroth and her son, photographer Adam Lubroth.

Newman has made several trips to Spain and has photographed Tapies, Franco, Picasso and Antonio Bienvenida, among other well-known Spaniards.

Newman first came to Madrid in the 1950s on assignment for Holiday Magazine. He photographed Picasso in 1954. He confessed that Picasso could win the honor of being his least favorite subject.

"Picasso was too interested in posing," said Newman. "Yet he wanted to cut short the time we had scheduled for the shoot. He did stay until I shot all the film, though. Later, he invited us to his house, but I don't think it was because he liked me. He was interested in Gus [Augusta's nickname]."

Francisco Franco, on the other hand, was a patient poser, but played hard to get until the last minute.

"We knew our phones were tapped while we were in Spain," Newman recounted. "In fact, this was the case in many countries I traveled to. The Franco staff kept postponing the photo session we scheduled. They always created some excuse. This went on until we got to the point where we were running out of time, and I was determined to get the photo done and still meet our publishing deadlines.

"Deadlines meant little to Franco's people, because it was common to hold presses for changes and censorship authorized by the Caudillo. So, when I told them I had to get the photo done of Franco on deadline, they never took me seriously. I really believe they thought Holiday Magazine would wait on them. I decided to go for the phone.

"On a Friday, I called my editor and I told him, 'Listen, I can't spend more time here. I am going to leave next Tuesday. I'm sorry I don't have a portrait of Franco, but it simply isn't possible to get it done.'"

The editor, who also knew the phones were tapped, expressed his regrets, but agreed that Newman could not spend any more time in Spain.

In a few hours, Franco's office called Newman. On Monday he shot the photo. Newman was the first photographer to ever take a portrait of the Generalísimo in civilian clothes. Franco granted the photographer this one victory, but denied Newman a portrait he wanted even more, that of the young Prince Juan Carlos and Princess Sofía. Everything was arranged, when Franco canceled the shoot at the last minute without explanation.

More frequently, friendships grow out of Newman's intense photo sessions. This was the case with the Spanish artist Tapies, for instance. The two artists stay in touch, and have traded works. Such mutual esteem arises because Newman relates to his subjects with honesty, normalcy and no small amount of understanding. "The heart and mind take the picture," he said, "not the camera."

When Newman photographed Otto Frank, father of Anne Frank, he found his heart and mind hesitating. "How could I ask this man to pose?" he shared with us. "I couldn't. Instead, I just waited, and Otto went into a deeply pensive mood. It was then that I took the photograph." When the session was over, the two men embraced -- and cried.

Through the course of the evening, we learned more about Newman. Even though he loves his environmental portrait work, he still prefers abstract photography to realist portraiture!

And we learned Newman takes snapshots. He pulled his little Cannon from his coat pocket, and like sheep, we amateurs hauled out our little pocket replicas. I thought maybe, just maybe, the master would give us a little free advice. He did. Newman handed his pocket camera to Gil Carbajal to take a photo. Carbajal focused and pointed the snapshot machine. Nothing happened. Then the Master spoke.

"You have to hold the button down," he said.


YSABEL DE LA ROSA is a writer and artist living in Madrid.