The Unretouched Woman is a 1976 collection/monograph of Eve Arnold’s photographs of women around the world, from the American South and South Africa, to Russia, the Hindu Kush, and Mamie Eisenhower in a funhouse mirror. It’s at turns touching and revelatory, and is available for stupidly cheap prices all over.

Arnold writes simply and elegantly about her career and experiences making the photographs, and is at turns charitable and backhanded in her remarks about various celebrities, and is always mid-20th Century woke aware of cultural and racial difference and social status, quick to sympathize with and praise her subjects and collaborators. Contemporary readers (I’m writing this in 2021) may raise their eyebrows or even clutch their pearls at some of her comments, but for the most part the writing has aged well, and better than that of some of her male counterparts.

Arnold was an early member of Magnum, and worked on projects for Life and other storied picture magazines, and her work is incredible. Given her status as rarified air photographer, in an age where that meant something, and given her, well, her-ness, she enjoyed and capitalized on the her unique access, and she left us with some views inside of groups and societies that many (western) people would never see or consider, even today when we’re all so aware. Arnold went all over and turned her camera on whoever she came across, in a democratic and dignifying manner.

Really, it’s a great book and slightly ahead of its time.


Used copies of The Unretouched Woman are available for less than $10, and if you believe anyone has a new copy of a 1976 softcover available, well, I’ll sell you my like new copy for 1/3 what they’re asking, and then turn around and buy a decent used copy for half of whatever you gave me or less…

And if you’re unfamiliar with Arnold, Magnum have a decent, very brief, biography and a bunch of her pictures, and there’s even a website, run by some family members, with a much more thorough biography, and both are worth a look.

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