Mark Arbeit

Mark Arbeit Mark Arbeit

Born in Chicago in 1953, Arbeit was raised in Northern California. When Arbeit was 16, the family moved to Oahu, Hawaii, and the beauty of islands awakened Arbeit's senses.  At 18, Arbeit enrolled in the University of Hawaii to study art and photography. A few years later, he decided to focus solely on photography, and transferred to the prestigious Art Center College of Design in Pasadena. During his third year there, he met Helmut Newton through a mutual friend. Newton took Arbeit on as an assistant, and Arbeit looked to Newton as a 'photo guru’.

Upon finishing his studies, Arbeit moved to New York, and was hired by Irving Penn as a studio assistant. Again, Arbeit approached his work as an apprentice, taking everything in. 'Penn was Mr. Technique,' says Arbeit. 'Everything he did is so meticulous, so perfect”.

After working for Penn, Arbeit moved to Milan to launch his own fashion photography career, and shot regularly for Linea Italia, Donna and Vogue Bellezza. In 1985, he settled in Paris to further his career as well as expand his artistic boundaries. To explore the experimental side of photography Arbeit and a few ambitious photographer friends from the Art Center formed a group called 'The Cauldron.' Its mission was simple: to take pictures that had never been done before. Arbeit's first personal series of work with the Cauldron, 'In and Out of focus'.

Arbeit continued to work commercially, shooting fashion for French Vogue and Marie Claire, and portraits for In Style, People and Forbes. In 1992, he launched a second series, 'Artist Atelier,' of female nudes in Parisian artist ateliers. Following the Atelier series, Arbeit launched a project he calls 'Polajunk Constructions': a collection of photomontages made of all the material that comes in a Polaroid box. During vacations back to his adopted home, Arbeit has been working on a study of Hawaii. With an 8"x10" Deardroff camera, he has photographed Hawaiians in play and in thought, the stunning mountainous landscapes and the flawless beaches. 

After living in Paris for a fulfilling 19 years, in 2004 Arbeit returned to live in Hawaii with his wife Pattariya, daughter Jariya and son, Ocean. Arbeit continues to shoot editorial for both local and international magazines around the world.

Artistic statement

The late 70’s was a great time in photography. The digital age hadn’t started yet; then, it was all about film, black & white printing and lighting technique. And we had no idea our lives would overlap in friendship and work, a connection for which Helmut Newton was an important catalyst.

I absorbed the images and mannerisms of photographers Erwin Blumenfeld, Man Ray, Helmut Newton and Irving Penn. Theirs was a visual dialogue through the nude and portraiture. I am seeking my own visual language and reference each one of them in my explorations.

Emphatically, throughout my career I’ve been drawn to Surrealism, to Paris at the beginning of the 20th century, a point of origin and aspiration for my photographic work. I lived in Paris for 19 years, for a while down the street from le Dôme café where, decades before, Man Ray would meet Marcel Duchamp and Meret Oppenheim and lived for 9 years off the same courtyard once occupied by Diego Rivera and Moise Kisling. I selected the ateliers of Bonnard, Man Ray, Picasso and Degas and other artists as locations for my studies. It is impossible not to be touched by such an exemplary legacy, such an outpouring of creative energy.

Each project exerts its demands. “In and out of Focus” is technically about the aperture of the lens, the diaphragm between the film and the subject, and about the tension between knowledge and imagination. Aperture wide-open, I bring a fraction of the image into focus while everything else remains out of focus, dream-like.

In the “Atelier” series I used the smallest possible aperture to inventory every tool, brush, and object – render every detail of the studio space in sharp definition and situated the nude there to extend my expression of the artistic place.

In “Polajunk”, I conceived of the Polaroid as a minute darkroom as well as a frame or window into a world of visual signs and references. I layered both the little print and its negative as a collage, reflecting on process and creating a complex interior space.

I continue to explore the vocabulary of Surrealism. My current series, “Torso”, influenced by Man Ray’s experiments from the 1920s, expresses both classical beauty and ambiguity. Using sleight of hand to conceal the extremities and bathing the torso in light from a single source, I emphasize volume and shape, leaving the viewer to wonder, is it flesh or a fragment of classical marble sculpture? 


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