Photographer Arlene Gottfried, who captured the humor, personalities and eccentricities of New York City in the 1970s and 1980s, died at her home in New York City on August 8. Her dealer, Daniel Cooney of Daniel Cooney Fine Art,
confirmed the news. He did not report the cause of death, but tells PDN that Gottfried’s family was with her when she died.
A native of the Coney Island section of Brooklyn, Gottfried began making photos while wandering the streets of New York City after she graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in the 1970s. “These photos came about just from interest in places and people,” Gottfried said in a 2014 interview.
After she landed her first assignment from New York magazine in the mid-1970s, she went on to shoot for The New York Times Magazine, LIFE, Fortune, the Village Voice and other publications, but her best known work was made during her free time. “I think I wander around and I see things that just speak to me, in one way or another. There are things that you try to say something about or a moment you want to hold,” she told photo editor and curator Paul Moakley in a 2011 interview.
After decades of making intimate and probing photos of life lived on the sidewalks and community gathering spots of the city’s many neighborhoods, she attracted the interest of publishing houses and the art world at the end of the 1990s.
“She always photographed the people she identified with—the underdogs, the unsung heroes and the people living on the fringe,” says Cooney. “I think that’s why people loved her work so much, there was always something to relate to. “
Gottfried published five books of her work: The Eternal Light (Dewi Lewis Publishing, 1999), Midnight (powerHouse 2003), Sometimes Overwhelming (2008), Bacalaitos and Fireworks (powerHouse 2011), and Mommie (powerHouse 2015).
Her most recent book was a portrait of three generations of women in her family: her immigrant grandmother, her mother and her sister.
Her work is in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, The New York Public Library, the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, Museum Folkwang in Essen, Germany and other institutions. In 2016, the Alice Austen House Museum, the historic home of one of America’s first women photographers, gave Gottfried the Alice Austen Award for the Advancement of Photography.
She is survived by her siblings, Karen and Gilbert, and her sister-in-law, Dara. A memorial service will be held in New York City on August 10.
Arlene Gottfried: “Nuyorican” Retrospective