Friday, 13 November 2009

Diane Arbus

Fur: an imaginary portrait of Diane Arbus (2006) was on very late on Monday on film 4.  I taped it and watched it last night.  I was really looking forward to seeing it and I did infact find it intriguing and interesting to watch.  The title I find bemusing - an imaginary biographical account - which seems like a contradiction.  I watched the film, I really enjoyed the film and then found myself wanting to find out about the real Diane Arbus to extrapolate the truth from the fairy-tale.  I searched websites and looked for the story, the images and her rise to fame.  I found the film portrayed a troubled soul who found a window of opportunity and purpose through her photography of the outwardly marginal members of society in which she herself found comfort.  I find her photography,  here are some to be 'growers', perhaps like many really great images and pictures, they at first appear unspectacular, yet the longer you look at them and when you return to look at them again and again, their provocativeness and prominence increasingly emanates from them.  Maybe the very best photos can be judged only through the passage of time when many other images are buried with their era.

Arbus from a seemingly well-to-do jewish family was uncomfortable with the conventions and expectations put upon her and found solace in her photography to the extent that everything else seemed to fall away with her own inprisoning facade.  The film concentrated on a period in her life in which she turned her back on the conventional life she led and explored her creative side.  We know later she found acclaim and yet she ultimately committed suicide - perhaps this added to her life, the tragic way in which she died. Maybe a troubled mind creates the extremes required to view the world in such unique ways to create such lucid and honest brilliance - I hope it's not the only way. 

Arbus only photographed her subjects after spending large amounts of time with her subjects beforehand, getting to know them, their surroundings and home.  Only then when her subjects were truly comfortable, would she capture them, after the facade fell.

This film (1972) about Arbus produced the year after she died by Doon Arbus and family friends gives an even more in-depth understanding of the person Arbus was. A term used in the film was 'visual athletics' used to describe the photographic yearning for more visually appealing photography popular in the 1970s.  This is where Arbus turned it on its head and produced awkward, uncomfortable images.  Arbus made people look at photography afresh.

Moving forward thirty years to the present day, can the new generation of photographers still be unique and 'see' things differently, as Arbus did in her day?  Is there any new territory not yet discovered?  It seems an impossible task.  I guess the technological advances have changed photography and processing. But what about the actual art of photography.  The Photograph as Contemporary Art by Charlotte Cotton (London 2009) looks at contemporary photography and discusses just this, which I'll come to in another post.  But from a personal perspective in a young, not in age, but in stage of photography, it is a difficult question for me to answer.

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