Arlene Gottfried, best known for her striking images of the streets of New York City and portraits of ordinary people, died at her home in Manhattan on Tuesday, William Grimes of the New York Times reports. The artist was sixty-six years old.
Gottfried was born on August 26, 1950, in Brooklyn, New York. Her father gifted her an old camera when she was in her teens, and she began taking pictures of people in her Coney Island neighborhood. When her family relocated to Crown Heights, Gottfried was inspired by the area’s growing Puerto Rican community. Her photographs of the Puerto Rican population on the Lower East Side and Harlem led to her first book, Bacalaitos & Fireworks (2011).
“It was a mixture of excitement, devastation and drug use,” she told the New York Times in 2016, describing the scenes she recorded. “But there was more than just that. It was the people, the humanity of the situation. You had very good people there trying to make it.”
While Gottfried did freelance work for a number of publications, such as the New York Times, the Village Voice, Fortune, and Life, starting in the mid-1970s, she did not become widely known until after she published Something Overwhelming in 2008, a collection of her black-and-white photographs from the 1970s and 1980s. She was then featured in an exhibition at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in 2014, which led to more shows in France and Germany.
“How her eye captures people, and how she touches them, that’s hard to explain,” her brother told The Guardian in 2014. “Someone else couldn’t see the funny or odd or touching thing, and capture it. Kind of like how a singer can have a great song, but not know how to sing it. She’s able to do that.”