Jackson Pollock by Arnold Newman


Jackson Pollock in his studio by Arnold Newman. circa 1949

Arnold Newman was a photographer who specialised in environmental portraits and took many images throughout the 20th century.

This person is clearly a painter; Newman has deliberately included lots of paint tins in the foreground. These tins are important as they directly reflect the main subject and his style of imagery. The man in the image is Jackson Pollock who was a celebrated artist that became famous for his abstract expressionist paintings which he made via dripping and flicking paint at a canvas. This haphazard system of painting is reflected through the indiscriminate positioning of the paint tins placed in front of the subject. This alone gives the viewer an insight in the unsystematic nature of the artist and even if you did not recognise the man these environmental items alone are a strong clue.

Pollock was a complex and reclusive person and his peculiar artistic style reflected his personality. He was not a person who welcomed visitors and despite his agreement to have his image taken his body language and expression suggests that this is about as far as he will go when it came to poses.

Pollock’s dis-interested body language works well as it is an accurate representation of him but also highlights the importance of the objects in the environment. Another object in the image is the skull behind Pollock. Skulls are often symbolic of death and it is unclear if this was remarkable foresight by Newman to leave it there or just a fortuitous portent but Pollock died a few years after this image was taken.

Despite Pollock’s celebrity status he does not appear to be a man over enamoured by public attention, his solitary nature meant he preferd to work in isolation and this is mirrored in his surroundings. Newman has also captured this element of his personality by including his understated workshop. It is quite possible that Pollock could have afforded a lavish well equipped studio but preferred to work in a more austere atmosphere.

From a technical perspective Newman would almost certainly have used a flash. The dark walls of the workshop and the seemingly lack of natural light would have meant he would have used a flash. Judging by the shadows I would think there are 2 lights in use. The key light is to the left of the photographer and it has lit up the paint tins and the subject but there could also be a second light from above the subject. There are some very small shadows on the face under the nose and on the cheek which leads me to think there is a light coming from the upper left of the image.

It is an interesting choice of lighting, to light him up so well seems to me to be in contrast with Pollock’s personality, if I was taking this image I would have been likely to have him shrouded in shadow to reflect how he values his secrecy.


Jackson Pollock dripping paint.

Jackson Pollock at work.

Jackson Pollock at work.


Jackson Pollock was famous for his Abstract Surrealism.

Jackson Pollock was famous for his Abstract Surrealism.

Jackson Pollock was famous for his Abstract Surrealism.