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.
Known forPhotography

Arlene Harriet Gottfried (August 26, 1950 – August 8, 2017) was a New York City street photographer who recorded 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. Later in her life, she embarked on a career as a gospel singer.[1]


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),[2] and Mommie (powerHouse 2015). Bacalitos and Fireworks focused on Puerto Ricans in the 1970s.[3][4][5] Mommie was a portrait of three generations of women in her family: her immigrant grandmother, her mother and her sister. Mommie: Three Generations of Women received Time Magazine’s Best Photobook Award in 2016. Her photographs and archives are in the collections of the European House of Photography (MEP), the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the New York Public Library.

Personal life[edit]

Born in Coney Island,[6] 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.[7] She moved with her Jewish immigrant family to the neighborhoods of Alphabet City.[8] Gottfried was the older sister of comedian and actor Gilbert Gottfried. 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.”[9]

She graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology.[10] 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,[11] and The Independent (London (UK)).

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.[12] Her photography dealer was the owner of the Daniel Cooney Fine Art Gallery.[13]

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.[14][7]

Gottfried converted to Pentecostal and brother Gilbert humorously called her a 'Jew for Jesus'.[15][16]


  1. ^ Moakley, Paul. "Remembering Arlene Gottfried: Legendary New York City Street Photographer". Time. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
  2. ^ 2, Jim May; EEDT, 2011 at 9:54 pm (May 2, 2011). "Arlene Gottfried: "Nuyorican" Retrospective (5 Photos)". PDN Photo of the Day.
  3. ^ "Photographing New York's Puerto Rican Community in the 1970s and '80s". Slate. March 11, 2016. Retrieved August 10, 2017.
  4. ^ "Arlene Gottfried (1950–2017)".
  5. ^ 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.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ a b "Arlene Gottfried, Photographer Who Found the Extraordinary in the Ordinary, Dies at 66". Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  8. ^ "How Arlene Gottfried photographed NYC's truest self". Dazed. August 9, 2017. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  9. ^ Thrasher, Steven W. (December 17, 2014). "Arlene Gottfried: an intimate, humorous eye for New York City's eccentricity". The Guardian. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  10. ^ "The Late, Great Arlene Gottfried's Iconic Photos Of Old NYC". Gothamist. Archived from the original on August 12, 2017. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
  11. ^ "Obituary: Street Photographer Arlene Gottfried, 66 | PDN Online". PDN Online. August 8, 2017. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  12. ^ "How Arlene Gottfried photographed NYC's truest self". Dazed. August 9, 2017. Retrieved August 15, 2017.
  13. ^ "Obituary – Arlene Gottfried, celebrated chronicler of NYC – British Journal of Photography". Retrieved August 19, 2017.
  14. ^ "Bio". Arlene Gottfried. Retrieved August 9, 2017.
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External links[edit]