Diane Arbus

Bonne and I have had my brother Greg’s Diane Arbus book of photographic portraits, An Aperture Monograph, in our possession for many years now. We really ought to give it back to him. Greg wrote his name and the date he acquired the book, May 20th 1974, in the inside cover. It’s an odd book of photography for a high school senior to have owned, as its portraiture subjects were primarily of people on the fringes of mainstream society. Every few years, Bonne or I take it out and look through it. And the effect from doing so reminds us of how connected we are to our fellow humans, despite wide divergences of vocation, physical looks and lifestyle.

We just watched the movie Fur – An imaginary portrait of Diane Arbus, which is a fictionalized portrait of a brief period of her life, highlighting her transformation from being her husband’s assistant in the New York City photography studio owned by Arbus and her husband, to becoming the brilliant photography artist that she soon became. It stars Nicole Kidman as Arbus, and Robert Downey, Jr. We found the cinematography and the settings to be hauntingly beautiful. Arbus photographed the CNN journalist Anderson Cooper, (son of Gloria Vanderbilt), when he was a baby. He goes out of his way to let people know that his photo was not her famous one of the child holding the toy hand-grenade.

Not Anderson Cooper by Diane Arbus

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

“Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.”

“My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.”

“The Chinese have a theory that you pass through boredom into fascination and I think it’s true. I would never choose a subject for what it means to me or what I think about it. You’ve just got to choose a subject, and what you think about it, what it means, begins to unfold if you just plain choose a subject and do it enough.”

“Regardless of how you feel inside, always try to look like a winner. Even if you are behind, a sustained look of control and confidence can give you a mental edge that results in victory.”

“The world can only be grasped by action, not by contemplation. The hand is the cutting edge of the mind.”

“What moves me about…what’s called technique…is that it comes from some mysterious deep place. I mean it can have something to do with the paper and the developer and all that stuff, but it comes mostly from some very deep choices somebody has made that take a long time and keep haunting them.”

“I’m very little drawn to photographing people that are known or even subjects that are known. They fascinate me when I’ve barely heard of them and the minute they get public, I become terribly blank about them.”

“I work from awkwardness. By that I mean I don’t like to arrange things. If I stand in front of something, instead of arranging it, I arrange myself.”

– Diane Arbus  (1923-1971)

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