By Ede Rothaus
The life and death of Arlene Gottfried affected many people. In her work as a photographer she documented and chronicled the City she lived in and loved. Her work reflected her awareness of her hometown’s surroundings—who was living where and what they were doing. It was complicated, diverse, soulful, joyous, painful, spontaneous, and in your face. She captured the beauty and poignancy of everyday life. Like the title of one of her books, Bacalaitos & Fireworks, the juxtaposition of the City’s cultures was what she saw.
As a fellow photographer, this writer’s 30-plus-year connection to Arlene was through photography and all that we had in common. We shared photography friends, a humanitarian outlook, similar lives and careers, and Brooklyn. When she moved to Westbeth, we then had the West Village in common and even swam in the same recreation center pools.
Arlene travelled a long distance (I guess mostly by subway) from Coney Island—where she grew up—to Westbeth. I remember how happy and excited she was when she finally got the lease to her Westbeth apartment and moved in. And it was in that same apartment where she had her wish to die at home of breast cancer.
I think Arlene would have been a little startled, but somehow not surprised, to see that her death was so widely reported, including on page one of The New York Times. The overflowing standing-room-only crowd at her funeral was as diverse as the City and represented the many corners of her life. She had strong connections to the Puerto Rican and gospel communities, her Brooklyn Jewish roots, the photography community (especially women’s photography), the Broadway and show business community, and her family (comedian Gilbert Gottfried is her brother).
Arlene was also known for her gospel singing. Drawn to a big choir with a big sound, she learned and became a powerful singer and performer. She was always looking for something that inspired her to sing or to photograph.
Arlene was one of us—a true New Yorker.
Remembering Arlene Gottfried
By Ede Rothaus