Hans Namuth: Portraits
by Carolyn Kinder Carr
During the summer and early fall of 1950, as Jackson Pollock moved about the huge canvases on the floor of his Long Island studio, defining their surfaces with dripped and thrown paint, a young photographer named Hans Namuth documented the artist at work. The best of his nearly five hundred photographs, first published in Portfolio and Art News magazines, enhanced public understanding of Pollock's paintings and began for Namuth a forty-year career of photographing America's leading painters, sculptors, writers, musicians, and architects.
Accompanied by a biographical essay by Carolyn Kinder Carr, this collection of seventy-five of Hans Namuth's photographic portraits, taken between 1950 and 1989, shows how his friendships with his often reclusive subjects and his determination to capture the essence of each artist's style resulted in revealing portraits of such notable painters as Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns, Andrew Wyeth, Helen Frankenthaler, and Andy Warhol. Although Namuth identified most closely with the Abstract Expressionists who became famous in the 1950s and early 1960s, his repertoire included a new generation of 1980s artists, among them Julian Schnabel and David Salle. In both his black-and-white and color photographs, Namuth used subtle but telling poses, settings, and details: John Steinbeck appears with his famous dog Charley; Philip Johnson stands jauntily on a staircase in the Museum of Modern Art beside a painting that he donated; Louise Nevelson wears jewelry that echoes the sweeping lines of her wood sculpture.
Carr sets the stage for Namuth's photographic career in America by describing his youth in pre-war Germany, his early work as a documentary photographer in Paris and Spain, his immigration to New York in 1941, and his wartime intellegence work for the United States Army. Returning to professional photography in 1949, he soon concentrated his efforts on photographic portraiture.
While Namuth saw himself as an artist photographing other artists in their private worlds, his iconic portraits evoke the rich texture of American cultural achievement in the second half of the twentieth century