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May 12, 2024


Three Generations of Women

In Memory of Arlene Gottfried

Photography and story by Arlene Gottfried
Introduction by Karen Ghostlaw Pomarico

The Pictorial List is honored to present to you a gift for Mother’s Day from the archives of late photographer Arlene Gottfried. Arlene Gottfried is not only one of the most profound photographers of their time, but a testament to the unconditional love and devotion she shared with her family. For generations, the women of her family were strong role models and the matriarchs of the family. They were her strength, wisdom, mentoring her and supporting her, while simply loving her.

Arlene Gottfried captured the essence of New York City’s vibrant tapestry throughout her adult life through her photography. Brilliant visual storyteller, Arlene was born in Brooklyn in 1950. Arlene’s work resonates with authenticity, empathy, and a keen eye for the human experience. Her photography spans decades, reflecting the city’s evolution and the diverse lives that inhabit its streets. With a unique blend of humor, warmth, and candidness, Arlene’s images offer glimpses into the lives of everyday people, often marginalized or overlooked, yet pulsating with vitality and resilience. She immortalized the raw beauty and undeniable charm of New York’s neighborhoods, portraying moments of joy, sorrow, celebration, and solitude with equal reverence. Arlene’s legacy as a photographer is defined not only by her technical prowess but also by her unwavering dedication to capturing the heart and soul of the city and its inhabitants.

“Mommie”, a book Arlene Gottfried carefully created and published with powerHouse Books, offers a compelling glimpse into the intimate world of motherhood through the lens of a gifted photographer. In this captivating collection, Arlene invites readers to embark on a visual journey that celebrates the complexity, tenderness, and resilience of maternal love. She was an observer, seeing all the intricacies in different personalities while understanding the dynamics this can bring to relationships. Arlene never imposed herself into the photograph, she was a quiet listener, retaining the important visuals to depict the true story.

Arlene captures the ordinary moments that shape the extraordinary bond between mothers and their children. Each photograph is a poignant reflection of the joys, challenges, strengths, weaknesses, reflecting the timeless beauty found within the realm of motherhood. She invites us to explore the universal experiences of nurturing, sacrifice, and unbreakable familial ties, creating a timeless homage to the profound and enduring role of mothers in our lives. “Mommie” is not just a book of photographs, but a heartfelt tribute to the essence of motherhood in all its raw and unfiltered glory.

Arlene’s portrayal of her family through photography reflects the bond and shared experiences they cherished. Karen, Arlene’s sister, was a source of inspiration and support, playing an integral role in Arlene's artistic journey, influencing her perspective and contributing to the rich volumes of visual stories depicted in her photographs. Often, they navigated the busy streets of the city, finding beauty in the everyday moments that unfolded before them. Their sisterly connection and the colorful tapestry of New York City were immortalized through Arlene’s photography, leaving behind a legacy of artistry and sisterhood that continues to resonate with audiences worldwide.



To my
Dear Mother Lillian Gottfried
Grandmother Minnie Zimmerman
Sister Karen Gottfried

I never really had a project and then went out to photograph for it, except for the gospel. But I started photographing my family in my early days of photography and I would photograph at different times or different occasions, just the way I still pretty much do it. Casual. It wasn't anything planned out.

The photographs in this book go back to 1972, when I took a picture of my grandmother. I think that's about when it began. The picture of my father was taken in ‘72, I would say, and it’s the only color picture I have of him.

My family was something I photographed, but not with the consciousness that this was a project of mine. I would see things and maybe I would take a photograph. We would meet at my sister Karen’s house for dinner and I’d take a picture over there, if something special were happening. Then as my mother and grandmother started to get older, I began photographing them more, as it was a way of documenting their aging and getting near the finality of life.

One time I remember my mother got into a bad mood. She had diabetes pretty severely. It affected her vision and her stamina. And she used to get a little angry.

But a lot of the time I would have the camera or bring it over to my sister’s house. If we were eating there or if we were going to visit my grandmother, I would take it. And when they were getting older and I thought things would change drastically, I left a camera at my mother’s house. I would have it there if I didn't feel like carrying it and I could still take some pictures of her.

Photographing my mother as she was dying was very hard. I guess that was the only way I could cope with it and kind of hold on to her as much as I could at that time. That was extremely difficult. She became very ill and she got sent through different hospitals and nursing homes and back to the hospital again. Back and forth and back and forth. I felt so bad for her, being shuttled around like that and being ill.

I don’t know how to describe it myself but I know it was something so important and so heartfelt and upsetting that I had to capture it. It was very hard to deal with her illness and watching her getting worse. It still hurts to look at the photos. It means a lot to me when people pay attention to the work. They have to be brave enough to feel the feelings.

I think it’s a story that most everyone experiences: Losing your parents. The nice touch is my sister giving birth at the end. You think the story is over, but it continues.

My grandmother was a traveler. (laughs) She got around until she couldn't anymore. Even when she couldn't get around anymore, in her retirement home, she’d say “Let's go outside.” It could be bitterly cold and she would go out, and if we did’'t have a pass, we would sneak around to the hospital side where there was a stairway. She was over 100 at this point and she would walk. I would help her go down the steps. Then I’d take the wheelchair down and we’d go out.

She wanted to get out of that atmosphere and she wanted to get into the air. She was always like that when she came to visit us. We’d go to the Botanical Gardens or something. She wasn't about sitting inside for very long. She liked to go out and move around and my mother said to me once, “You're like Bubbie.” Because I can’t stand staying locked up inside. (laughs)

When my grandmother died, it was a sad day, even though she was 104 years old. It was a quiet day in the kitchen when we all met to wait for the car to go to the funeral. That’s what I remember very intensely. She was a great part of our lives. Her mind was sharp on her last day so it wasn’t a sad situation like that.

My mother actually said about her, that she lived till she died, which was true. My grandmother had gone with members of the senior home where she lived to the planetarium the day before she passed on. So I thought she went to that sky, in the universe.

She loved life. She wanted to be part of things. She was very aware of what was going on. She read her forward every day, you know, the Jewish newspaper. She wasn’t someone to just fade into the woodwork.

Mommie has been germinating in me for a while. It changed when my sister gave birth to my nephew, as that kind of extended the story. I always think things are happening at the right time when they happen. I couldn’t have done it sooner, this was the right time. I showed the last maquette to my sister. She was very quiet. She looked at every picture and then she said that she can’t get it out of her head. That’s all she said about it. I know it was intense for her to look at it.

I am sure my mother would have had some things to say about showing her so ill. I am not really sure what they would say about it. Generally speaking, my mother was proud of the work I did. She would ask me questions and keep reminding me about things I was supposed to do. My mom was the agent I never had. Not forceful though. She was very supportive in her way and I miss that. I feel their energies, not just for the book, but I feel them every once in a while, their presence.

I think they gave me a lot of creativity in a lot of different ways. When I think back, my grandmother on my father’s side was a singer. Not a professional singer, but they would say she would always sing and be very warm hearted at gatherings. (laughs) I think, “Oh, look at that, she loved to sing. Just like me.” My mother called me “the singing photographer.” There was always humor with my family, a lot of humor from a lot of different people. When I think of family I think of humor and I think of my grandmother sewing and cooking and her creativity. My mother was an intellectual in a way. She went to college at a time when women didn't go to college. I think all of this was funneled into me. It is my inheritance.

Arlene Gottfried’s poignant exploration of motherhood in “Mommie” is not just a collection of photographs but a profound tribute to the enduring bonds of family and the universal experiences of love, loss, and resilience. Through her photography, she immortalizes the ordinary moments that shape extraordinary relationships, capturing the essence of maternal love with authenticity and empathy.

Arlene not only recorded but captured her family’s experiences, from the joyful moments to the heartbreaking ones, reflecting the richness of human connection and the complexities of life as we age. Her ability to capture the raw emotions and intimate moments of her loved ones, even in the face of illness and loss, speaks to the power of photography as a means of both coping with while cherishing life’s most profound moments.

As Arlene reflects on her family’s legacy of creativity, humor, and resilience, she acknowledges the profound influence they have had on her own artistic journey. Through her photographs, she not only pays tribute to her family but also carries forward their legacy, infusing her work with their spirit and energy.

In “Mommie,” Arlene Gottfried invites us to celebrate the timeless beauty of motherhood and the enduring bonds of family, reminding us of the importance of cherishing every moment and honoring the legacies that shape who we are.

Arlene’s family extended beyond the women, they were loved and guided by their father and shared a very close relationship with their brother comedian Gilbert Gottfried, who passed away not long after Arlene. “Mommie” was dedicated to the women of the family, but the men also were cherished, and deeply loved. It was a genuine family bond they all shared and carried with them until their death. Karen, the living survivor of their immediate family, along with Gilbert’s wife, Dara have their own children to pass these values down to, sharing the significance of commitment to family. As single mothers Karen and Dara have a wealth of memories to rely on for wisdom. Arlene, Karen, and Gilbert were truly gifted the understanding of family values lovingly passed down by the good hearts and souls of their mother and grandmother. The sisterhood of motherhood is the resilient common thread that unifies and strengthens the bond for all mothers everywhere, each and every day.

Arlene Gottfried's body of work reflects a deep engagement with New York City’s diverse cultures and communities. From her documentation of Puerto Rican culture in “Bacalaitos and Fireworks” to her exploration of schizophrenia in “Midnight” and her portrayal of gospel choirs in “The Eternal Light,” her photographs offer intimate glimpses into the lives of her subjects.

Her ability to capture the essence of her subjects has earned her international recognition, with exhibitions in various countries and her photographs being included in prestigious collections such as The Brooklyn Museum of Art and The Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. Additionally, her photojournalistic work has graced the pages of numerous publications, showcasing her talent for storytelling through images.

Living in New York City and its boroughs, Arlene’s surroundings undoubtedly provided endless inspiration for her work, but her real ability to document life with genuine authenticity comes from her deep roots in her family. Her passion for photography is evident in her dedication to family and diligence to visual storytelling in its truest form, capturing the vibrancy of the city and all its inhabitants.

Arlene’s surviving family, Karen Gottfried, and her sister-in-law Dara Gottfried are doing their best to care for Arlene’s treasures. Karen cares for her family photos, and memorabilia and helps to keep her sister’s photography alive through social media. Dara has begun safely organizing, documenting and archiving Arlene’s extensive library of negatives, Cibachromes, Kodachromes, as well as countless photo paper boxes filled with beautiful analog prints. This is a tremendous amount of work, and a daunting task for any family. One reality we as photographers we all have to face, that day of reckoning. It is important to think about and prepare for.

Richard Wexler, original founder of ‘The Arlene Gottfried Legacy Project’, an offshoot of the Vintage Annals Archive, began around 2013-14 with a simple aim: to showcase and promote Arlene’s remarkable body of work on Instagram. Over time, it evolved into a multifaceted endeavor, including a dedicated webpage, presentations, and now a three-part podcast series, spearheaded by a collaboration between the project founder and Karen Gottfried. Through interviews with key figures and consistent social media updates, the project aims to honor Arlene’s legacy and preserve her contributions to photography. For further engagement, audiences can follow the project on Instagram and listen to the podcast series.

A story like this takes many contributions, considerable effort from numerous people, all working together to share the memories and visual stories Arlene has gifted to us. We feel honored to share with our readers her exceptional photographic journey as she witnessed and defined the world around her.

The Pictorial List thanks Karen and Dara Gottfried, and their families, for allowing us to experience Arlene in such a real and touching way. Spending time in her archives, visiting the family, looking through her photographs, holding her cameras, made me feel her presence at times. It was a gift for me to experience such a brilliant photographer with such a personal hands-on exposure to their work.

We thank Daniel Power, from powerHouse Books, for sharing the intimacy of Arlene's family through her photography, allowing us to share their brilliant publication of the “Mommie” book, by Arlene Gottfried. If there is one thing that is evident with absolutely everyone I have spoken with, the genuine kind and generous person Arlene was, and how she touched people and created a lifelong connection and bond, that translates beyond her death, carrying her authentic inciteful photography into the future.

Finally, we thank Arlene for sharing the intimacy of the relationships between the women in her family through her book, “Mommie.” What an inspirational read on Mother’s Day. We are reminded of the strength and value of the commitment to family, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, as long as we all shall live. The vows transcend marriage and are the very family values we raise our families with. Happy Mother’s Day to all mother’s, each and every day of the year!

In loving Memory of the Gottfried family -

Minnie Zimmerman | September 15, 1896 - July 1, 2000
Max Gottfried | May 10, 1909 - September 11, 1975
Lillian Gottfried | April 13, 1919 - January 7, 2002
Arlene Gottfried | August 26, 1950 - August 8, 2017
Gilbert Jeremy Gottfried | February 28, 1955 - April 12, 2022

The views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author/s, and are not necessarily shared by The Pictorial List and the team.

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