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Author Topic: Diane Arbus  (Read 4885 times)

jng

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Diane Arbus
« on: May 26, 2016, 01:10:25 PM »

The New York Times recently published two interesting articles about Diane Arbus, one on the occasion of a show that will open at the Met Breuer in NY this summer, featuring her early work, and the other a perspective on Arbus's development as a photographer and artist. I found both articles to be quite revealing about Arbus, what motivated her, and her approach to her subjects.

(Apologies if these articles are locked behind a pay wall.)

John

EDIT: I meant to post this under Discussing Photographic Styles and have asked the moderator to move my post...
« Last Edit: May 26, 2016, 01:42:51 PM by jng »
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Rob C

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #1 on: May 26, 2016, 03:07:00 PM »

Thank you for the link, jng; she's one of those rare people, my opinion of whom seems to change, in one direction or the other, amost every time I look at the work.

Sometimes I dislike her with a vengeance, and then at other times I feel a deeper sense of sorrow than 'outrage' - outrage not really being the right word, but close enough to express an emotion which, itself, isn't all that clear to me.

Maybe that's the mark of a pretty good artist? Maybe not.

Regardless of that aspect, the pictures do demonstrate what true grain, as of film, looks like, which some on LuLa should study, despite it obviously having been pushed (no pun intended) through the processes to get it online.

But why does photography attract so many strange personalities? What, for that matter, defines strange? I think that subliminally, we already know.

Rob C

GrahamBy

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #2 on: May 26, 2016, 03:50:38 PM »

Street photography in particular would seem a natural vocation for those who are psychologically unable to function normally in life, so retreat to observe it through a viewfinder. There are probably a great number who are in the same situation without a camera, but we don't know about them...
Someone in a happy relationship is less likely to head off and prowl the streets alone.

I suspect it's much less true for someone who works with models, and therefore needs to communicate, reassure, inspire.
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jng

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #3 on: May 26, 2016, 04:03:48 PM »

Rob,

While I don't pretend to understand Arbus's motivations or the basis of her genius, these articles did provide some insight. What struck me was the mention that Arbus always engaged her subjects - i.e., they knew she was there when she pressed the shutter. Either because or in spite of her inner demons, Arbus had a unique way of connecting and looking into her subjects' souls, often with disturbing consequences. Love them or hate them (and yes, as you point out one's emotions can change with the same image), the clarity and honesty of her images can be breathtaking. It's hard not to be moved by her photographs.

Cheers,

John

P.S. A thread you started a few months ago motivated me to dig up some old books during a recent visit to my childhood home. I came back with W. Eugene Smith's monograph on Minamata, and also the Family of Man, the latter with a long inscription from an old girlfriend from 40+ years back!
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RSL

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #4 on: May 26, 2016, 04:05:53 PM »

She was able to show us something about life that no other photographer seemed able to reach. The Arbus picture that always sticks in my mind is this one: https://artblart.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/da06-web.jpg. I don't know why, but I know it's telling me something that no other picture I've seen has been able to tell me. It's a homely thing, but it's one of those photographs that contains a transcendental experience -- at least for me.

Rob C

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #5 on: May 26, 2016, 04:25:32 PM »

Rob,

While I don't pretend to understand Arbus's motivations or the basis of her genius, these articles did provide some insight. What struck me was the mention that Arbus always engaged her subjects - i.e., they knew she was there when she pressed the shutter. Either because or in spite of her inner demons, Arbus had a unique way of connecting and looking into her subjects' souls, often with disturbing consequences. Love them or hate them (and yes, as you point out one's emotions can change with the same image), the clarity and honesty of her images can be breathtaking. It's hard not to be moved by her photographs.

Cheers,

John

P.S. A thread you started a few months ago motivated me to dig up some old books during a recent visit to my childhood home. I came back with W. Eugene Smith's monograph on Minamata, and also the Family of Man, the latter with a long inscription from an old girlfriend from 40+ years back!


I'm happy to have had a positive effect. It's as much as anyone can ask. Thanks for letting me know that!

Rob C

Rob C

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #6 on: May 26, 2016, 04:27:40 PM »

She was able to show us something about life that no other photographer seemed able to reach. The Arbus picture that always sticks in my mind is this one: https://artblart.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/da06-web.jpg. I don't know why, but I know it's telling me something that no other picture I've seen has been able to tell me. It's a homely thing, but it's one of those photographs that contains a transcendental experience -- at least for me.

And another thing: if the rubbish had been PSed away, it wouldn't have half the kick that it does. Oddly, they look as if they were in British 50s clothes.

Rob C

Rob C

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #7 on: May 26, 2016, 04:45:35 PM »

Street photography in particular would seem a natural vocation for those who are psychologically unable to function normally in life, so retreat to observe it through a viewfinder. There are probably a great number who are in the same situation without a camera, but we don't know about them...
1. Someone in a happy relationship is less likely to head off and prowl the streets alone.

2. I suspect it's much less true for someone who works with models, and therefore needs to communicate, reassure, inspire.


1. That's an accurate analysis of moi! My domestic life was almost a 24/24 one every day. We even worked together sometimes if I went on location locally, and my second studio was built alongside our house. And when the budgets eventually allowed, she came along and worked on every trip. It lasted from when I was seventeen.

2. Working with models most of the time, has, for me, had the effect of making it even harder to allow myself to snap strangers. I feel nothing's going to work unless I can suggest, flirt (far more difficult even to think about doing the latter when you are old) ... and with models there's no subliminal fear of attack. If there is no such fear with intruding on strangers, then perhaps that, too, suggests something a bit odd in the makeup of that photographer: why wouldn't a complete stranger feel annoyed at being targetted, for that's what it is? And replying "why would the stranger feel upset is not really the point, just a verbal, diversionary trick.

But it's still a delightfully attractive feeling if you can manage it sometimes, just as long as you know that you are not being unkind, and even better if you know (imagine) you are making them look good, and better than any snap made them look before!

Rob C
« Last Edit: August 31, 2016, 06:18:00 AM by Rob C »
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donbga

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #8 on: May 26, 2016, 07:31:30 PM »


Regardless of that aspect, the pictures do demonstrate what true grain, as of film, looks like, which some on LuLa should study,


This makes no sense to me Rob. I used film for decades but have never bought in to the notion that using film makes one a better photographer or that some how having visible grain in a print somehow trumps photos made with a digital camera.

Yes there is a different print syntax made with analog materials but at this point in photo history what does it matter? It's the photo content as well as the final representation that is important  to me but analog isn't inherently better nor is digital photography.

Don Bryant

PS Thanks to the OP for the links to the Arbus articles. She will be remembered in my mind as an important photographer of the 21st century.
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jng

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #9 on: May 26, 2016, 11:30:31 PM »


I'm happy to have had a positive effect. It's as much as anyone can ask. Thanks for letting me know that!

Rob C

In more ways than one! Some of your posts have pushed me to think more deeply about my photography and photography in general. In this particular case, we'll see how positive the net effect is when my wife discovers the inscription from said old girlfriend and realizes she could have been rid of me 4 decades ago!

John
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jng

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #10 on: May 26, 2016, 11:37:53 PM »

She was able to show us something about life that no other photographer seemed able to reach. The Arbus picture that always sticks in my mind is this one: https://artblart.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/da06-web.jpg. I don't know why, but I know it's telling me something that no other picture I've seen has been able to tell me. It's a homely thing, but it's one of those photographs that contains a transcendental experience -- at least for me.

Russ,

Thanks for the link. I only have a vague recollection of this image but in any case it certainly does capture the imagination. In surfing the web earlier this evening for some of Arbus's iconic photos, I am reminded of the powerful nature of her work. I am hoping to get to NY in time to see the exhibit at the Met before it closes in November.

John
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Petrus

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #11 on: May 27, 2016, 12:08:34 AM »

She was able to show us something about life that no other photographer seemed able to reach. The Arbus picture that always sticks in my mind is this one: https://artblart.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/da06-web.jpg. I don't know why, but I know it's telling me something that no other picture I've seen has been able to tell me. It's a homely thing, but it's one of those photographs that contains a transcendental experience -- at least for me.

We interpret this photograph (and many others from the past) slightly differently than her contemporaries. Clothing now looks funny making the couple look and feel eccentric to us, while to them, at that time, they were more or less a normal young couple going out wearing their new coats.

I have a couple of Arbus' books, and she did have a major influence on me in the seventies-eighties.
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jng

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #12 on: May 27, 2016, 12:54:50 AM »

True enough. But the geometric perspective of the image haunts me: are they teenagers wearing "adult" clothes? Or are they young adults with unusually short physical statures? And their facial expressions are both mysterious and timeless - what was going through their minds when Arbus clicked the shutter?
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GrahamBy

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #13 on: May 27, 2016, 04:08:30 AM »

Rob C: "But it's still a delightfully attractive feeling if you can manage it sometimes, just as long as you know that you are not being unkind, and even better if you know (imagine) you are making them look good, and better than any snap made them look before!"

Last weekend I took the photo below. The context was interesting, I was in Vieux Lyon with a camera, and a group of three women asked if I would take their photo... and handed me a big, pink Lomo :) (Cheap polaroid copy, bit of a fetish item in some circles). So I did my duty, then grabbed a couple of snaps on my own camera. As I looked away, I saw this scene a little further away... click. She looked just at the moment I pressed the button: was she annoyed? Pleased? Hadn't yet had time to react? I actually find the photo powerful because of that instant of ambiguous connection with a stranger. If I was a braver person, I would have spoken to her after, but I assumed she would be annoyed, so I scurried away...

It's possible I was being unkind to her boyfriend  ;)


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Rob C

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #14 on: May 27, 2016, 04:20:41 AM »

This makes no sense to me Rob. I used film for decades but have never bought in to the notion that using film makes one a better photographer or that some how having visible grain in a print somehow trumps photos made with a digital camera.

Yes there is a different print syntax made with analog materials but at this point in photo history what does it matter? It's the photo content as well as the final representation that is important  to me but analog isn't inherently better nor is digital photography.

Don Bryant

PS Thanks to the OP for the links to the Arbus articles. She will be remembered in my mind as an important photographer of the 21st century.


And neither should you buy into the idea you've suggested. Nothing makes one a better photographer but oneself.

My view, and it's only my opinion, is that a print made via the wet process, by the hands of a good printer, has something that a digital print, made by an equally competent digital guy, can not have: its look.

Grain, of itself, is not the key: in fact much of the time in my pro life, the wish was to minimize grain as much as possible. That said, grain today, in my 'pleasure photos' - for want of a better name - is something that I actively try to replicate if for no other reason than that it removes, slightly, the sterility of the process/look that I feel digital is cursed with for this sort of self-indulgent type of image-making. It seems to me that producing an image where there is nothing visible except the cold reality of either a face, a glass and concrete building or anything else, is kind of pointless unless there's a commission in the background, where the objective is to produce as good, and clear, a rendering of the subject as is humanly possible. In such a case, the bigger the original capture surface and the lesser the intrusion of any external factor (such as grain) the better!

On the other hand, for my idea of 'personal work', grain brings its own quality that I find appealing. Which is why I mentioned it in connection with the Arbus images in the supplied link. It's my opinion that had Arbus used a digtial camera we would not find much charm in her oeuvre. Yes, she did indeed, at least according to the review, change over to larger formats when she was a little older, as can perhaps be deduced from the formats of the various pictures. But, unless she left some written documentation as to why she did that (the change), the reason(s) remain speculation. Was she afraid of grain? Did she actually have poor technical ability? Did she simply find larger formats more convenient tools? Did she really know what she was doing in either sense?

My reason for suggesting that some here could benefit from looking at the images in the links was this: there is real grain, and there is the bogus stuff packaged as grain, for using along with the rest of the digital workings. Genuine grain is different in look, and develops in a natural  picture in a different way, and does not show up evenly and indiscriminately, as a layer, on top of all the other tones extant in the basic digital picture. Neither is it normally as aggressive and intrusive a look. Grain has subtlety, something I find lacking in much new photography, either as result of medium or lack of understanding on the part of the new photographers (some!).

At this point in photo history, does it matter, you ask? It has always mattered, along with every other factor that impinges upon the process of creating an image.

Rob C

Rob C

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #15 on: May 27, 2016, 04:31:05 AM »

Rob C: "But it's still a delightfully attractive feeling if you can manage it sometimes, just as long as you know that you are not being unkind, and even better if you know (imagine) you are making them look good, and better than any snap made them look before!"

Last weekend I took the photo below. The context was interesting, I was in Vieux Lyon with a camera, and a group of three women asked if I would take their photo... and handed me a big, pink Lomo :) (Cheap polaroid copy, bit of a fetish item in some circles). So I did my duty, then grabbed a couple of snaps on my own camera. As I looked away, I saw this scene a little further away... click. She looked just at the moment I pressed the button: was she annoyed? Pleased? Hadn't yet had time to react? I actually find the photo powerful because of that instant of ambiguous connection with a stranger. If I was a braver person, I would have spoken to her after, but I assumed she would be annoyed, so I scurried away...

It's possible I was being unkind to her boyfriend  ;)

Damned good picture!

You are being both kind and (perhaps) cruel: she reminds me of some pics of a young Kate Moss (the eyes); he somewhat of a monkey, with much intensity, picking fleas off another monkey's back. In this instance, perhaps the cruelty resides indeed in the eye of the beholder: myself, because I have time to consider, and not in the photographer who, in this case, apparently had no such time. So, no premeditated violence there. And you certainly knew where to focus!

Overall, wish I'd shot it.
« Last Edit: May 27, 2016, 04:38:51 AM by Rob C »
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RSL

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #16 on: May 27, 2016, 08:46:38 AM »

We interpret this photograph (and many others from the past) slightly differently than her contemporaries.

I don't, Petrus, because I'm one of her contemporaries. If she were alive today she'd be seven years older than I am. The couple is dressed normally for that time -- dressed to blend in and avoid being offensive. A few years ago B&W magazine had a cover picture that showed two hoboes getting out of a boxcar. As I recall, the picture was made in the late thirties. Both wore suitcoats and hats. They were shabby, but they were trying to avoid offending others. That's different from our contemporaries. Now I go to a mall and see men slopping by wearing flipflops, ripped shorts, sweaty t-shirts, and trying to look as if they're in fifth grade. Their women usually are costumed as streetwalkers. The objective is to be as offensive as possible. You're right. Things have changed.

Rob C

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #17 on: May 27, 2016, 09:36:25 AM »

Perhaps the troubling thing about that Arbus image is that it's difficult to come to any conclusion about ages, and even whether they are 'normal' people or suffer from some disability or other form of differentness. I find this especially so in the case of the female, who also looks older than her companion, in whatever type of relationship that might be.

Quite apart from the expression she has, the shooting angle and the use of what looks very much like a mildly wide-angle optic does little to clarify.

Now Arbus apparently ran a fashion studio with her other half for about ten years - as a fashion snapper she would know that those two photo-choices she made, together, would produce anything but the ultimate flattering portrait, so one has to assume that her intentions was not to be kind. Or she was just caught short at the wrong time. We shall never know - enough that we care.

Rob C

Petrus

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #18 on: May 27, 2016, 11:20:44 AM »

I don't, Petrus, because I'm one of her contemporaries. If she were alive today she'd be seven years older than I am. The couple is dressed normally for that time -- dressed to blend in and avoid being offensive.

In the fifties even the street hooligans wore suits and a fedora… And I was going to say the same, that if we showed a picture of a group of schoolgirl mall rats to somebody from the fifties, the pictures would also be misinterpreted...
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Ed B

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Re: Diane Arbus
« Reply #19 on: May 28, 2016, 12:46:55 AM »


But why does photography attract so many strange personalities? What, for that matter, defines strange? I think that subliminally, we already know.

Rob C

I'm just going to pick this out of your quote. Is it possible photographers are just voyeurs? Not that being a voyeur is necessarily a bad thing, within reason. But we do observe and watch people, or for that matter, things around us. Maybe we've just channeled it in a positive way.
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