Arnold Eagle immigrated to the United States with his parents in 1929. He learned photography in the early 1930s, worked as a photo retoucher, and bought his first camera in 1932. He cultivated a passion for documentary photography through his membership in the Film and Photo League, and in 1936 joined several others in establishing an independent Photo League devoted exclusively to still photography. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, Eagle produced extended documentary projects, including a portrait of the Orthodox Jewish community on Manhattan’s Lower East Side; One Third of a Nation, a Works Progress Administration series depicting slum conditions in New York City; and a documentation of the vanishing elevated subway trains. He contributed photographs to Fortune and The Saturday Evening Post throughout the 1940s and worked with Roy Stryker for Standard Oil of New Jersey. Among his best-known bodies of work are his photographs for the Martha Graham Dance Company, a decade long endeavor begun in 1944. Eagle, who was cinematographer for Hans Richter’s Dreams That Money Can Buy and Robert Flaherty’s Louisiana Story, taught filmmaking for more than three decades at the New School for Social Research.
Eagle’s socially concerned documentary photographs of the 1930s and 1940s were dedicated not only to divulging the social problems of contemporary society, but to elucidating its positive aspects as well. He was devoted to preserving aspects of urban culture that were in danger of disappearance, and in this respect, his work is invaluable to our historical understanding New York in the 1930s and 1940s. His work has been shown infrequently; a notable exhibition was held at ICP in 1990.