The Gothamist describes Arlene Gottfried as a “singing photographer and NYC treasure.” That seems like an epitaph to be proud of. The Brooklyn-born artist, sister to actor Gilbert Gottfried, passed away on Tuesday, August 8th, 2017. Her name may not have been a household one, but many of her photographs were.
“Arlene was a soulful person who followed her heart in her work and in her daily life. In many ways I think that is the best any of us can do. Her photographs fill people with joy and with tears. She made art from her heart and that’s what people respond to when they see it,” said Daniel Cooney, owner of the gallery through which she sold her art.
A parade of girls in their white confirmation dresses being escorted by nuns and mothers past TVs set up on an abandoned Chevy Vega. A can-can dancer in makeup never meant for a close-up. A make-shift pig roast being watched over by a pair of boys in an alley of crumbling brick. Her photographs are New York City from the bottom up, behind the scenes, past the curtain.
“She always photographed the people she identified with—the underdogs, the unsung heroes, and the people living on the fringe,” said Cooney. “I think that’s why people loved her work so much, there was always something to relate to.”
In 2008, Gottfried released Sometimes Overwhelming, a book with many of her favorite photographs from New York’s ’70s and ’80s. The originals of those prints are part of the collection the Brooklyn Museum of Art today, except for those that she donated to the New York Public Library.
No one drags their TV into the street to plug it into the bottom of a street lamp and watch the fight with their neighbors anymore. But Gottfried’s photographs will remember that time for us.