Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Diane Arbus, Photographer

Not long ago, I had the chance to go see an exhibition at Jeu de Paume in Paris, France by the world famous Photographer Diane Arbus, a New Yorker who revolutionized the art of Photography. Her bold subject matter and photographic approach produced a body of work that is often shocking in its purity, in its constant celebration of things as they are. Many say she had a gift for rendering strange those things we consider most familiar, and for uncovering the familiar within the exotic.

Initially, she worked for her father shooting fashion as he was the owner of a famous Department Store located on 5th Avenue; so did her husband Allan Arbus. Later on, she decided to explore another side of photography as fashion didn't quite satisfy her and that's how she started shooting people, not your regular people though, Diana was attracted to different people, people who was quirky and out of the ordinary look-wise, she found them to be interesting and camera-capture worthy.

Most of Diane's subjects were in New York City, a place that she explored as both a familiar geography and as a foreign land, photographing people she discovered during the 1950s and 1960s. When talking about her work, most people think of black-and-white square photographs of awkward people.

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.

To understand Diane's photography, is important to read her texts as it will be easier for you to understand where she comes from, photographically speaking. She once said "I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn't photograph them.", referring to the type of people she used to shoot, commonly known/called "freaks" by most people, including herself. "Freaks was a thing I photographed a lot. It was one of the first things I photographed and it had a terrific kind of excitement for me. I just used to adore them. I still do adore some of them. I don't quite mean they're my best friends but they made me feel a mixture of shame and awe.", this explains her fascination to shoot so many of them, which is a bit contradictory as she did not want to be known as"the photographer of 'freaks'", which ended up happening.

Arbus suffered from "depressive episodes", which ended up leading her to take her own life by ingesting barbiturates and slashing her wrists with a razor when she was only 48. Two days later, a friend of hers found her on the bathtub. It was only a year after her death that she started getting International recognition for her work and they started showing it in major exhibitions.

In this first major retrospective in France, Jeu de Paume -the Paris Gallery- presents a selection of two hundred photographs that afford 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.

If you're interested in her work or knowing more about her as a photographer, a movie was made a few years ago, it's called "Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus", which is precisely that and not an accurate biography, however, you can get a rough idea of what she was like and her vision and pretty much what is it she was about, it's quite interesting really and you know nobody like Nicole Kidman to play awkward personalities.


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