Arlene Harriet Gottfried (August 26, 1950 â€“ August 8, 2017) was a New York City street photographer who recorded scenes of ordinary daily life in some of the city's less well-to-do neighborhoods. Her work was not widely known until she was in her 50s. Although Jewish by birth, later in her life she embarked on a career as a gospel singer.Gottfried published five books of her work: The Eternal Light (Dewi Lewis Publishing, 1999), Midnight (powerHouse 2003), Sometimes Overwhelming (2008); One of her series, Bacalaitos and Fireworks (powerHouse 2011), focused on Puerto Ricans in the 1970s; Mommie (powerHouse 2015) was a portrait of three generations of women in her family: her immigrant grandmother, her mother, and her sister. Mommie : Three Genereations of Women received Time Magazineâ€™s Best Photobook Award in 2016. Her photographs and archives are in the collections of the European House of Photography (MEP), the Brooklyn Museum of Art, and the New York Public Library.
Born in Brooklyn, she moved with her Jewish immigrant family to the neighborhoods of Alphabet City. Gottfried was the older sister of comedian and actor Gilbert Gottfried. When Arlene was a teenager, her father Max gave her an old 35mm camera, which she eventually took to Woodstock, even though she said, "I had no clue what I was doingâ€. She credited her upbringing for giving her the ability to get intimate photographs of strangers: â€œWe lived in Coney Island, and that was always an exposure to all kinds of people, so I never had trouble walking up to people and asking them to take their picture.â€
She graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology. She worked as a photographer for an advertising agency before freelancing for publications such as The New York Times Magazine, Fortune, Life, the Village Voice, and The Independent (London (UK)).
She was an habitue of Nuyorican Poets Café, a friend of Miguel Piñero, and on the Lower East Side sang gospel with the Eternal Light Community Singers. Her photography dealer was the owner of the Daniel Cooney Fine Art Gallery.
She died August 8, 2017 from complications of breast cancer at her home in Manhattan at the age of 66 surrounded by friends and family