Posts Tagged ‘Fire Eater at a Carnival

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.”

.
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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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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