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Arlene Gottfried was a photographer of the under-represented and underprivileged. While Gottfried shot assignments for The New York Times, LIFE, Time and Newsweek among others she is best known for her photographs of life on the streets of New York City. It was Gottfried’s identification with her subjects that truly set her above the rest.

Gottfried spent her early childhood in Coney Island, living above the hardware store that her father and uncle owned. At the age of nine her family moved to Crown Heights where the Puerto Rican culture captured her attention and expanded her view of the world. She studied photography at the Fashion Institute of Technology where she was the only woman in her class. She later moved to Manhattan and found work at a photo agency doing commercial and advertising work.

In 2011 Gottfried told Paul Moakley of TIME, “My mother used to say ‘Arlene– just don’t wander!’ Then I started wandering, but I got a camera because it gave it a little more meaning…a life of wandering is really what it all is.” Gottfried’s wandering took her to every corner of New York including the Gospel churches of Upper Manhattan where she discovered her powerful voice as a soloist gospel singer and became known as “The Singing Photographer”. She also wandered into the drug dens of the Lower East Side to empathetically photograph herion addicts, she was accepted into the Nuyorican culture downtown and spent years documenting her beloved friend Midnight as he struggled with mental health problems. Gottfried photographed three generations of women in her family, intimately portraying life and death and continued to captured the excitement of everyday life in her hometown of New York City.

Gottfried is prominently featured in the film “Gilbert” a documentary on her brother, the comedian Gilbert Gottfried. Her work has been published in five monographs, “The Eternal Light”, “Midnight”, “Sometimes Overwhelming”, “Bacalaitos & Fireworks” and “Mommie”. Her artwork has been featured in The New York Times, TIME, LIFE, The Guardian, CBS News and elswhere. Her photographs are held in the collections of The Brooklyn Museum, The Jewish Museum, The Tang Teaching Museum, The North Carolina Museum of Art and the New York Public Library among others.

Couple embracing by Arlene Gottfried

Arlene Gottfried
Couple Embracing, c.1980