Arlene Gottfried

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Arlene Gottfried
Arlene Harriet Gottfried

(1950-08-26)August 26, 1950
DiedAugust 8, 2017(2017-08-08) (aged 66)
Manhattan, New York, U.S.
Alma materFashion Institute of Technology
Known forPhotography

Arlene Harriet Gottfried (August 26, 1950 – August 8, 2017) was a New York City street photographer who was known for recording the candid scenes of ordinary daily life in some of the city's less well-to-do neighborhoods; her work was not widely known until she was in her 50s.[1]


Throughout her life, Arlene Gottfried freelanced for many top publications, including The New York Times Magazine, Fortune, Life, and The Independent in London.[2]

In her later years, she published five books of her work: The Eternal Light (Dewi Lewis Publishing, 1999), Midnight (powerHouse 2003), Sometimes Overwhelming (2008), Bacalaitos and Fireworks (powerHouse 2011),[3] and Mommie: Three Generations of Women (powerHouse 2015).

The Eternal Light focussed on a choir Gottfried first saw at a Gospel Fest, which also led to her discovery of her love for singing.[4]

Midnight is a series of photographs that followed a man named Midnight who struggled with schizophrenia.[4][5]

Sometimes Overwhelming is a compilation of her photographs in the 1970s and 1980s New York.

Bacalitos and Fireworks focused on New York's Puerto Rican community in the 1970s and 1980s.[4][6][7][8]

Mommie: Three Generations of Women was a portrait of three generations of women in her family: her immigrant grandmother, her mother and her sister. Mommie: Three Generations of Women later received Time Magazine’s Best Photobook Award in 2016.

Her photographs and archives have been exhibited at the Leica Gallery in New York and Tokyo, the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and the Daniel Cooney Fine Art gallery in New York City.[2][7] Her work can also be found in the European House of Photography (MEP), the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the New York Public Library.[1][2]

Personal life[edit]

Born in Coney Island,[9] she was the daughter of Lillian (Zimmerman), a homemaker, and Max Gottfried, who ran a hardware store with his own father, above which the family lived.[10] Gottfried was the older sister of comedian and actor Gilbert Gottfried.[9] When she was 9, Arlene moved to Crown Heights, where she became heavily influenced by the nearby, fast-growing Puerto Rican community.[10] Later in the 70s, she moved with her Jewish immigrant family to the neighborhoods of Alphabet City and the Lower East Side.[11]

When Arlene was a teenager, her father gave her an old 35mm camera, which she eventually took to Woodstock, even though she said, "I had no clue what I was doing”. She credited her upbringing for giving her the ability to get intimate photographs of strangers: “We lived in Coney Island, and that was always an exposure to all kinds of people, so I never had trouble walking up to people and asking them to take their picture.”[12]

Gottfried graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology taking photography courses.[9] She worked as a photographer for an advertising agency before freelancing for publications such as The New York Times Magazine, Fortune, Life, the Village Voice,[13] and The Independent (London). She was an habitué of Nuyorican Poets Café, a friend of Miguel Piñero, and on the Lower East Side sang gospel with the Eternal Light Community Singers.[11] Her photography dealer was the owner of the Daniel Cooney Fine Art Gallery.[13]

In 1991 while on assignment Arlene photographed the Eternal Light Community Singers, eventually singing with them, as well. Arlene also sang gospel with the Jerriese Johnson East Village Gospel Choir.[12][10]

Arlene Gottfried died on August 8, 2017 from complications of breast cancer at her home in Manhattan at the age of 66 surrounded by friends and family.[1][10]


  1. ^ a b c "Bio". Arlene Gottfried. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
  2. ^ a b c "Sometimes Overwhelming | powerHouse Books". Retrieved October 30, 2019.
  3. ^ 2, Jim May; EEDT, 2011 at 9:54 pm (May 2, 2011). "Arlene Gottfried: "Nuyorican" Retrospective (5 Photos)". PDN Photo of the Day. Archived from the original on May 6, 2019. Retrieved August 19, 2017.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  4. ^ a b c Moakley, Paul. "Remembering Arlene Gottfried: Legendary New York City Street Photographer". Time. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
  5. ^ "Arlene Gottfried". The British Journal of Photography. 158: 41. November 2011.
  6. ^ "Photographing New York's Puerto Rican Community in the 1970s and '80s". Slate. March 11, 2016. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  7. ^ a b "Arlene Gottfried (1950–2017)".
  8. ^ Moroz, Interview by Sarah (May 3, 2017). "Arlene Gottfried's best photograph: Nuns and kids march through a New York drugs hotspot". The Guardian. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  9. ^ a b c Piepenbring, Dan; Gottfried, Arlene (April 1, 2018). "Arlene Gottfried's New York, Through the Eyes of Her Brother Gilbert Gottfried". ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved March 3, 2019.
  10. ^ a b c d "Arlene Gottfried, Photographer Who Found the Extraordinary in the Ordinary, Dies at 66". Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  11. ^ a b "How Arlene Gottfried photographed NYC's truest self". Dazed. August 9, 2017. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  12. ^ a b Thrasher, Steven W. (December 17, 2014). "Arlene Gottfried: an intimate, humorous eye for New York City's eccentricity". The Guardian. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  13. ^ a b "Obituary: Street Photographer Arlene Gottfried, 66 | PDN Online". PDN Online. August 8, 2017. Retrieved August 15, 2017.

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