Posts Tagged ‘Diane Arbus Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park

20
Nov
16

Exhibition: ‘diane arbus: in the beginning’ at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 12th July – 27th November 2016

Curator: Jeff L. Rosenheim, Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs at The Met

 

 

#1

This looks to be a fascinating exhibition, presenting as it does images from the first seven years of Arbus’ career as an independent artist. I wish I could see it.

What strikes one when viewing the 35mm photographs is how loose they are in terms of the framing and composition. Most of them could do with a good crop to tighten the image frame. Stripper with Bare Breasts Sitting in Her Dressing Room, Atlantic City, N.J. 1961 would have worked better if the focus had been tightened on the central figure. Similarly, Lady on a Bus, N.Y.C. 1957 works much better as a square image as seen in the feature image for the exhibition (below). Gone is the extraneous frontal detritus which adds nothing to the image. But just feel the intensity of the withering look of the women being projected out of the photograph – it’s as if she could bit your head off at any moment. She’s not a happy camper at being photographed.

This is Arbus experimenting, feeling out the medium and trying to find her signature voice as an artist. All the later, well known elements are there: keen observation; wonderful timing; a love of intimacy and a formal, visual relationship with the subject; strong central characters; a respect for outsiders; an understanding of the pain of others; and “the poignancy of a direct personal encounter … [and] a passionate interest in the individual.”

My favourite photographs in this posting are the two images Boy stepping off the curb, N.Y.C. 1957-58 and Girl with schoolbooks stepping onto the curb, N.Y.C., 1957. There is a marvellous insouciance about these photographs, “the divineness in ordinary things” embedded in the innocence of youth. We could be these people caught half-stride in their young lives, lightly stepping onto the pavement of the future. The reciprocal gaze makes us stare, and stare again… for even as those photographs are glimpses, glances of a life they become so much more, long lasting archetypes to which we can all relate. As Arthur Lubow observes citing John Szarkowski, a longtime director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, “The reciprocal gaze that marks her early photographs would be furthered and intensified in the collaborative form of portraiture in her mature work, done with a medium-format camera. Szarkowski, for one, believed that the sharpness that larger film offered was in keeping with her aim to be both particular and mythic.”

Particular and mythic. How magical.

Not only did her work need the sharpness that medium format film offered, what a lot of people forget is that using a medium format camera like a Rollei is a totally different way of seeing the world. This is something that hardly anybody mentions. With a 35mm camera you bring the camera to your face and look through the viewfinder; with a medium format camera such as Arbus’ Rolleiflex or her Mamiya C330 (seen around her neck in a portrait of her in Central Park, below), the camera is held at waist level and you look down into the viewing prism of the camera… and everything is seen in reverse. I remember travelling around the world in 2000 and using a Mamiya C220 and thinking to myself, this is the most amazing experience staring down at the world, moving the camera left and right and the image moving the opposite way to what you think it will move, and then having to account for for parallax in the framing (where the image seen in the viewfinder is not framed the same as the image seen through the lens, because the viewfinder is in a slightly different position to the lens). Even with the one medium format image featured in this posting, I can just feel the different relationship of the camera and photographer to the world – in the format, in the cropping and in the previsualisation of the image. Looking down, back up to the subject, back down into the camera – instead of a horizontal perspective, both a horizontal, vertical and square perspective on the world. It’s all about feeling (in) her work. And you couldn’t really miss her if she wanted to take your photograph… look at all the equipment slung around her neck in her portrait in Central Park: twin lens hoods to stop glare, boom and large flash. She wanted you to know that she was there, to acknowledge her presence.

Arbus intuitively knew what she wanted – the presence of the person and the presence of the photographer acknowledged through a circular, two-way relationship. And we, the viewer, understand that process and acknowledge it. Hence, these photographs are not “apparently artless”, they are the very antithesis of that. They are both a thinking and feeling person’s photography. All of her photographs are intelligent investigations of the human condition which produce an empathic response in the viewer. They are a form of empathic vision in which the viewer is drawn into that magical and transcendent relationship. In my opinion, there has never been anyone like her, before or since: no devotees, followers or disciples (except, perhaps, Mary Ellen Mark). Arbus is one of a kind. She will always be my #1.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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Many thankx to the Metropolitan Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The photographs from her early career reveal that the salient characteristics of her work – its centrality, boldness, intimacy and apparent artlessness – were present in her pictures since the very beginning. Arbus’s creative life in photography after 1962 is well documented and already the stuff of legend; now, for the first time, we can properly examine its origins.

 

 

diane arbus: in the beginning-web

 

 

“The camera is cruel, so I try to be as good as I can to make things even.”

“I do feel I have some slight corner on something about the quality of things. I mean it’s very subtle and a little embarrassing to me but I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them.”

“One thing that struck me early is that you don’t put into a photograph what’s going to come out. Or, vice versa, what comes out is not what you put in.”

“…I would never choose a subject for what it means to me. I choose a subject and then what I feel about it, what it means, begins to unfold. ”

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Diane Arbus

 

“I think Arbus was suggesting that just as people are looking at us and we’re looking at them every day, the pictures made us introspective as viewers. They forced us to confront our own identity. And that’s a really beautiful switch, that switcheroo. We’re looking at somebody else but we’re mindful of our voyeurism, and we’re mindful of how we ourselves are presenting. ‘How am I different? How did I become the person I am?’ That’s one of the qualifying elements of an Arbus photograph: that you feel something about you, often something that might not be comfortable.”

“Arbus’s early photographs are wonderfully rich in achievement and perhaps as quietly riveting and ultimately controversial as the iconic images for which she is so widely known. She brings us face-to-face with what she had first glimpsed at the age of 16 – “the divineness in ordinary things” – and through her photographs we begin to see it too.”

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Exhibition curator Jeff L. Rosenheim

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'diane arbus: in the beginning' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'diane arbus: in the beginning' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

Installation view of the exhibition 'diane arbus: in the beginning' at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

Installation views of the exhibition diane arbus: in the beginning at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

 

 

This landmark exhibition features more than 100 photographs that together redefine Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971), one of the most influential and provocative artists of the 20th century. It focuses on the first seven years of her career, from 1956 to 1962, the period in which she developed the idiosyncratic style and approach for which she has been recognized praised, criticized, and copied the world over.

Arbus made most of her photographs in New York City, where she lived and died, and where she worked in locations such as Times Square, the Lower East Side, and Coney Island. Her photographs of children and eccentrics, couples and circus performers, female impersonators and Fifth Avenue pedestrians are among the most intimate and surprising images of the era.

The majority of the photographs in the exhibition have never before been seen and are part of the Museum’s Diane Arbus Archive, acquired in 2007 by gift and promised gift from the artist’s daughters, Doon Arbus and Amy Arbus. It was only when the archive came to The Met that this remarkable early work came to be fully explored. Arbus’s creative life in photography after 1962 is well documented and already the stuff of legend; now, for the first time, we can properly examine its origins.

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Boy above a crowd, N.Y.C., 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Boy above a crowd, N.Y.C., 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus. 'Taxicab driver at the wheel with two passengers, N.Y.C. 1956' 1956

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Taxicab driver at the wheel with two passengers, N.Y.C. 1956
1956
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Girl with a pointy hood and white schoolbag at the curb, N.Y.C. 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Girl with a pointy hood and white schoolbag at the curb, N.Y.C. 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Empty snack bar, N.Y.C., 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Empty snack bar, N.Y.C., 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Windblown headline on a dark pavement, N.Y.C., 1956' 1956

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Windblown headline on a dark pavement, N.Y.C., 1956
1956
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Screaming woman with blood on her hands, 1961' 1961

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Screaming woman with blood on her hands, 1961
1961
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

 

“As part of the inaugural season at The Met Breuer, diane arbus: in the beginning will open on July 12, featuring more than 100 photographs that together will redefine one of the most influential and provocative artists of the 20th century. This landmark exhibition will highlight never-before-seen early work of Diane Arbus (1923-71), focusing on the first seven years of her career, from 1956 to 1962 – the period in which she developed the idiosyncratic style and approach for which she has been recognized, praised, criticized, and copied the world over. The exhibition is made possible by the Alfred Stieglitz Society. Additional support is provided by The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation and the Art Mentor Foundation Lucerne.

“It is a rare privilege to present an exhibition this revelatory, on an artist of Arbus’s stature. More than two-thirds of these works have never before been exhibited or published,” said Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Met. “We sincerely thank the Estate of Diane Arbus for entrusting us to show an unknown aspect of this remarkable artist’s legacy with the camera.”

Jeff Rosenheim, Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs, added, “Arbus’s early photographs are wonderfully rich in achievement and perhaps as quietly riveting and ultimately controversial as the iconic images for which she is so widely known. She brings us face-to-face with what she had first glimpsed at the age of 16 – ‘the divineness in ordinary things’ – and through her photographs we begin to see it too.”

diane arbus: in the beginning focuses on seven key years that represent a crucial period of the artist’s genesis, showing Arbus as she developed her style and honed her practice. Arbus was fascinated by photography even before she received a camera in 1941 at the age of 18 as a present from her husband, Allan, and made photographs intermittently for the next 15 years while working with him as a stylist in their fashion photography business. But in 1956 she numbered a roll of 35mm film #1, as if to claim to herself that this moment would be her definitive beginning. Through the course of the next seven years (the period in which she primarily used a 35mm camera), an evolution took place – from pictures of individuals that sprang out of fortuitous chance encounters to portraits in which the chosen subjects became engaged participants, with as much stake in the outcome as the photographer. This greatly distinguishes Arbus’s practice from that of her peers, from Walker Evans and Helen Levitt to Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander, who believed that the only legitimate record was one in which they, themselves, appear to play little or no role. In almost complete opposition, Arbus sought the poignancy of a direct personal encounter.

Arbus made most of her photographs in New York City, where she was born and died, and where she worked in locations such as Times Square, the Lower East Side, Coney Island, and other areas. Her photographs of children and eccentrics, couples and circus performers, female impersonators and Fifth Avenue pedestrians are among the most intimate and surprising images of the era. From the beginning, Arbus believed fully that she had something special to offer the world, a glimpse of its many secrets: “I do feel I have some slight corner on something about the quality of things. I mean it’s very subtle and a little embarrassing to me but I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them.”

Nearly half of the photographs that Arbus printed during her lifetime were made between 1956 and 1962, the period covered by this exhibition. At the time of her death in 1971, much of this work was stored in boxes in an inaccessible corner of her basement darkroom at 29 Charles Street in Greenwich Village. These prints remained undiscovered for several years thereafter and were not even inventoried until a decade after her death. The majority of the photographs included in the exhibition are part of the Museum’s vast Diane Arbus Archive, acquired in 2007 by gift and promised gift from the artist’s daughters, Doon Arbus and Amy Arbus. It was only when the archive – a treasury of photographs, negatives, notebooks, appointment books, correspondence, and collections – came to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2007 that this seminal early work began to be fully explored.

Among the highlights in the exhibition are lesser-known published works such as Lady on a bus, N.Y.C. 1957, Boy stepping off the curb, N.Y.C. 1957-58, The Backwards Man in his hotel room, N.Y.C. 1961, and Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Conn. 1961, as well as completely unknown additions to her oeuvre, such as Taxicab driver at the wheel with two passengers, N.Y.C. 1956, Woman with white gloves and a pocket book, N.Y.C. 1956, Female impersonator holding long gloves, Hempstead, L.I. 1959, and Man in hat, trunks, socks and shoes, Coney Island, N.Y. 1960. Included among the selection of six square-format photographs from 1962 is the iconic Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962, a photograph that signals the moment when Arbus turned away from the 35mm camera and started working with the 2¼ inch square format Rolleiflex camera, a format that remained a distinctive attribute of her work for the rest of her life. The photographs from her early career reveal that the salient characteristics of her work – its centrality, boldness, intimacy, and apparent artlessness – were present in her pictures since the very beginning. Arbus’s creative life in photography after 1962 is well documented and already the stuff of legend; now, for the first time, we can properly examine its origins.

diane arbus: in the beginning is curated by Jeff L. Rosenheim, Curator in Charge of the Department of Photographs at The Met.”

Press release from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Child teasing another, N.Y.C., 1960' 1960

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Child teasing another, N.Y.C., 1960
1960
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Boy at the pool hall, N.Y.C., 1959' 1959

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Boy at the pool hall, N.Y.C., 1959
1959
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Child in a nightgown, Wellfleet, Mass., 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Child in a nightgown, Wellfleet, Mass., 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Woman wearing a mink stole and bow shoes, N.Y.C., 1956' 1956

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Woman wearing a mink stole and bow shoes, N.Y.C., 1956
1956
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Woman with white gloves and a pocket book, N.Y.C. 1956' 1956

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Woman with white gloves and a pocket book, N.Y.C. 1956
1956
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Lady on a Bus, N.Y.C. 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Lady on a Bus, N.Y.C. 1957
1957
Gelatin silver print
8 1/2 x 5 3/4 in. (21.6 x 14.6 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Danielle and David Ganek, 2005
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

 

ROSENHEIM There are many pictures from her first 50 rolls of film in the show. And you can see for yourself that she is already isolating individuals, pedestrians on Fifth Avenue. She is approaching people, and in almost every instance, it’s one image and the subject is addressing the camera. Arbus did not want to do what almost every one of her peers was doing, which she was highly aware of – she was well versed in the history of the medium; she was taking classes from Lisette Model and she had studied with Berenice Abbott and Alexey Brodovitch. What she took away from that training was this feeling that she could find her subject and they could find her in equal measure. She allowed herself to be vulnerable enough. Helen Levitt used a right-angle viewfinder so her subjects couldn’t see what she was doing. Walker Evans used the folds of his coat to hide his camera on the subway. The style of documentary photography was that you wanted to see but you didn’t want to be seen, and Arbus had a completely different method. It was to use the camera as an expressive device that allows the viewer of the photograph to be implicated by the subject looking directly at the artist.

Randy Kennedy. “The Diane Arbus You’ve Never Seen,” on the New York Times website 26 May 2016

 

“Arbus is not without her critics and, where some people praise her ability to celebrate the marginalized and glorify the unusual, others see her work as cruel and exploitative. Lubow, however, claims that both stances oversimplify the real complexity of her work, which is perhaps where both he and Jeff Rosenheim, the curator in charge of photography at the Met, take a stab at redefining Arbus, because if we define her solely by the people she photographed, we’re missing the point.

“I think both Jeff and I realized that from the beginning she wanted to capture a moment where she was seeing and being seen, she wanted a reciprocal look,” Lubow says. “Jeff is doing that formally, and showing you that she needed it as an artist, and I’ve tried to show that she needed it as a person. She was motivated to feel and to record the response of her subject to her. That was how she felt real, this was how she felt alive.””

Krystal Grow. “Diane Arbus and the Art of Exchange,” on the American Photo website July 16, 2016

 

“From the very beginning of her career, she was taking photographs to obtain a vital proof – a corroboration of her own existence. The pattern was set early. When she was 15, she described to a friend how she would undress at night in her lit bathroom and watch an old man across the courtyard watch her (until his wife complained). She not only wanted to see, she needed to be seen. As a street photographer, she dressed at times in something attention-grabbing, like a fake leopard-skin coat. She didn’t blend into the background, she jumped out of it. And she fascinated her subjects. “People were interested in Diane, just as interested in her as she was in them,” John Szarkowski, a longtime director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, once told me…

Diane had a talent for friendship, and she maintained long-term connections with all sorts of people – eccentrics in rooming houses, freaks in sideshows, socialites on Park Avenue. She needed those relationships. But she also relied on filmed verification of her impact on others. The reciprocal gaze that marks her early photographs would be furthered and intensified in the collaborative form of portraiture in her mature work, done with a medium-format camera. Szarkowski, for one, believed that the sharpness that larger film offered was in keeping with her aim to be both particular and mythic.”

Arthur Lubow. “How Diane Arbus Became ‘Arbus’,” on the New York Times website May 26, 2016

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Boy stepping off the curb, N.Y.C. 1957-58' 1957-58

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Boy stepping off the curb, N.Y.C. 1957-58
1957-58
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Girl with schoolbooks stepping onto the curb, N.Y.C., 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Girl with schoolbooks stepping onto the curb, N.Y.C., 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Kid in a hooded jacket aiming a gun, N.Y.C., 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Kid in a hooded jacket aiming a gun, N.Y.C., 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Man in hat, trunks, socks and shoes, Coney Island, N.Y. 1960' 1960

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Man in hat, trunks, socks and shoes, Coney Island, N.Y. 1960
1960
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'The Backwards Man in his hotel room, N.Y.C. 1961' 1961

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
The Backwards Man in his hotel room, N.Y.C. 1961
1961
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Stripper with Bare Breasts Sitting in Her Dressing Room, Atlantic City, N.J. 1961' 1961

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Stripper with Bare Breasts Sitting in Her Dressing Room, Atlantic City, N.J. 1961
1961
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Female impersonator holding long gloves, Hempstead, L.I., 1959' 1959

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Female impersonator holding long gloves, Hempstead, L.I., 1959
1959
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Conn. 1961' 1961

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Conn. 1961
1961
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Elderly Woman Whispering to Her Dinner Partner, Grand Opera Ball, N.Y.C. 1959' 1959

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Elderly Woman Whispering to Her Dinner Partner, Grand Opera Ball, N.Y.C. 1959
1959
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) 'Fire Eater at a Carnival, Palisades Park, N.J. 1957' 1957

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Fire Eater at a Carnival, Palisades Park, N.J. 1957
1957
Silver gelatin print
© Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

 

Diane Arbus in Central Park with her Mamiya Camera in 1967

 

Diane Arbus in Central Park with her Mamiya Camera (330?) in 1967

 

Diane Arbus, 'Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962'

 

Diane Arbus (1923-1971)
Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962
1962
Silver gelatin print

 

 

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25
Jan
12

Exhibition: ‘Diane Arbus’ at Jeu de Paume, Paris

Exhibition dates: 18th October 18 2011 – 5th February 2012

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“There are and have been and will be an infinite number of things on earth. Individuals all different, all wanting different things, all knowing different things, all loving different things, all looking different. Everything that has been on earth has been different from any other thing. That is what I love: the differentness, the uniqueness of all things and the importance of life… I see something that seems wonderful; I see the divineness in ordinary things.”

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Diane Arbus. Paper on Plato, senior English seminar, Fieldston School, November 28, 1939

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“I want to photograph the considerable ceremonies of our present because we tend while living here and now to perceive only what is random and barren and formless about it. While we regret that the present is not like the past and despair of its ever becoming the future, its innumerable inscrutable habits lie in wait for their meaning. I want to gather them, like somebody’s grandmother putting up preserves, because they will have been so beautiful.

There are the Ceremonies of Celebration (the Pageants, the Festivals, the Feasts, the Conventions) and the Ceremonies of Competition (Contests, Games, Sports), the Ceremonies of Buying and Selling, of Gambling, of the Law and the Show; the Ceremonies of Fame in which the Winners Win and the Lucky are Chosen or Family Ceremonies or Gatherings (the Schools, the Clubs, the Meetings). Then they are Ceremonial Places (The Beauty Parlor, The Funeral Parlor or, simply The Parlor) and Ceremonial Costumes (what waitresses wear, or Wrestlers), Ceremonies of the Rich, like the Dog Show, and of the Middle Class, like the Bridge Game. Or, for example: the Dancing Lesson, the Graduation, the Testimonial Dinner, the Séance, the Gymnasium and the Picnic, and perhaps the Waiting Room, the Factory, the Masquerade, the Rehearsal, the Initiation, the Hotel Lobby and the Birthday Party. The etcetera.

I will write whatever is necessary for the further description and elucidation of these Rites and I will go wherever I can to find them.

These are our symptoms and our monuments. I want simply to save them, for what is ceremonious and curious and commonplace will be legendary.”

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Diane Arbus. “American Rites, Manners and Customs,” Plan for a Photographic Project, Guggenheim proposal

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A fabulous posting, with memorable thoughts and photographs! These archetypal images have become deeply embedded in the collective conscience where conscience is pre-eminently the organ of sentiments and representations. The snap, snap, snap of the shutter evinces the flaws of human nature, reveals the presence of a quality or feeling to which we can all relate. As Arbus states, the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture. And more complicated. This is why these photographs always capture our attention because we become, we inhabit, we are the subject. They are the flaw in us all. They are legend.

Many thankx to Jeu de Paume for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Diane Arbus
Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962
1962
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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Diane Arbus
Identical twins, Roselle, N.J. 1967
1967
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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On Photographs

“They are the proof that something was there and no longer is. Like a stain. And the stillness of them is boggling. You can turn away but when you come back they’ll still be there looking at you.”

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Diane Arbus in response to request for a brief statement about photographs, March 15, 1971

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Diane Arbus (New York, 1923–1971) revolutionized the art she practiced. Her bold subject matter and photographic approach produced a body of work that is often shocking in its purity, in its steadfast celebration of things as they are. Her gift for rendering strange those things we consider most familiar, and for uncovering the familiar within the exotic, enlarges our understanding of ourselves.

Arbus found most of her subjects in New York City, a place that she explored as both a known geography and as a foreign land, photographing people she discovered during the 1950s and 1960s. She was committed to photography as a medium that tangles with the facts. Her contemporary anthropology – portraits of couples, children, carnival performers, nudists, middle-class families, transvestites, zealots, eccentrics, and celebrities – stands as an allegory of the human experience, an exploration of the relationship between appearance and identity, illusion and belief, theater and reality.

In this first major retrospective in France, Jeu de Paume presents a selection of two hundred photographs that affords an opportunity to explore the origins, scope, and aspirations of a wholly original force in photography. It includes all of the artist’s iconic photographs as well as many that have never been publicly exhibited. Even the earliest examples of her work demonstrate Arbus’s distinctive sensibility through the expression on a face, someone’s posture, the character of the light, and the personal implications of objects in a room or landscape. These elements, animated by the singular relationship between the photographer and her subject, conspire to implicate the viewer with the force of a personal encounter.

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Biography

Diane Arbus was born in New York City on March 14, 1923, and attended the Ethical Culture and Fieldston Schools. At the age of eighteen she married Allan Arbus. Although she first started taking pictures in the early 1940s and studied photography with Alexey Brodovitch in 1954, it was not until 1955-57, while enrolled in courses taught by Lisette Model, that she began to seriously pursue the work for which she has come to be known.

Her first published photographs appeared in Esquire in 1960 under the title The Vertical Journey. From that point on she continued to work intermittently as a free-lance photographer for Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, Show, The London Sunday Times, and a number of other magazines, doing portraits on assignment as well as photographic essays, for several of which she wrote accompanying articles.

During the 1950s, like most of her contemporaries, she had been using a 35mm camera, but in 1962 she began working with a 6×6 Rolleiflex. She once said, in accounting for the shift, that she had grown impatient with the grain and wanted to be able to decipher in her pictures the actual texture of things. The 6×6 format contributed to the refinement of a deceptively simple, formal, classical style that has since been recognized as one of the distinctive features of her work.

She received Guggenheim Fellowships in 1963 and 1966 for projects on “American Rites, Manners and Customs” and spent several summers during that period traveling across the United States, photographing contests, festivals, public and private gatherings, people in the costumes of their professions or avocations, the hotel lobbies, dressing rooms and living rooms she had described as part of “the considerable ceremonies of our present.” “These are our symptoms and our monuments,” she wrote in her original application. “I want simply to save them, for what is ceremonious and curious and commonplace will be legendary.” 

The photographs she produced in those years attracted a great deal of attention when a selected group of them were exhibited, along with the work of two other photographers, in the 1967 “New Documents” show at the Museum of Modern Art. Nonetheless, although several institutions subsequently purchased examples of her work for their permanent collections, her photographs appeared in only two other major exhibitions during her lifetime, both of them group shows.

In the late 1960s she taught photography courses at Parsons School of Design, the Rhode Island School of Design and Cooper Union and in 1971 gave a master class at Westbeth, the artists cooperative in New York City where she then lived. During the same period she initiated the concept and did the basic research for the Museum of Modern Art’s 1973 exhibition on news photography, “From the Picture Press.”

She made a portfolio of ten photographs in 1970, printed, signed and annotated by her, which was to be the first of a series of limited editions of her work. She committed suicide on July 26, 1971 at the age of forty-eight. The following year the ten photographs in her portfolio became the first work of an American photographer to be exhibited at the Venice Biennale.

In the course of a career that may be said to have lasted little more than fifteen years, she produced a body of work whose style and content have secured her a place as one of the most significant and influential photographers of our time. The major retrospective mounted by the Museum of Modern Art in 1972 was attended by more than a quarter of a million people in New York before it began its tour of the United States and Canada. The Aperture monograph Diane Arbus, published in conjunction with the show has sold over 300,000 copies. Beginning in 2003, Diane Arbus Revelations, an international retrospective organized by The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art travelled to museums throughout the United States and Europe between 2003 and 2006. Major exhibitions devoted exclusively to her work have toured much of the world including, Australia, Germany, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain, and the United Kingdom.

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Diane Arbus
Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade, N.Y.C. 1967
1967
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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Diane Arbus
Untitled (6) 1970-71
1970-71
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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On Freaks

“There’s a quality of legend about freaks. Like a person in a fairy tale who stops you and demands that you answer a riddle. Most people go through life dreading they’ll go through a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.”

“If you’ve ever talked to somebody with two heads you know they know something you don’t.”

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The Gap between Attention and Affect

“You see someone on the street and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw. It’s just extraordinary that we should have been given these peculiarities. And, not content with what we were given, we create a whole other set. Our whole guise is like giving a sign to the world to think of us in a certain way but there’s a point between what you want people to know about you and what you can’t help people knowing about you. And that has to do with what I’ve always called the gap between intention and effect. I mean if you scrutinize reality closely enough, if in some way you really, really get to it, it becomes fantastic.”

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Other Thoughts

“The thing that’s important to know is that you never know. You’re always sort of feeling your way.”

“Nothing is ever the same as they said it was. It’s what I’ve never seen before that I recognize.”

“A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”

“For me the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture. And more complicated. I do have a feeling for the print but I don’t have a holy feeling for it. I really think what it is, is what it’s about. I mean it has to be of something. And what it’s of it always more remarkable than what it is.”

“I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them.”

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Diane Arbus
A young man in curlers at home on West 20th Street, N.Y.C. 1966
1966
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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Diane Arbus
Teenage couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C. 1963
1963
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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Diane Arbus
Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, L.I. 1963
1963
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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