Nastiness Diagnosis. Anthropology. Religion. Gender. Justice. A Personal Notepad For the General Public.
"If you scrutinize reality closely enough, in some way it becomes fantastic," Arbus said. She is most known for her images of circus and freak show performers, transsexuals and nudists, society’s outsiders portrayed with an unashamed voyeurism that is also disarmingly empathetic. The portraits make us aware of our own personal self-conscious self-doubts. The really unsettling fact remains that, when Arbus photographed more normal subjects, her lens revealed their underlying freakishness, a fact that contributed to questions about her suicide in 1971. ( by Robert Clark, on The Guardian, 22 May 2009)
Stop Victimization and Start Humanization is a Doulbe-Edged Sword.
In his 1972 article in Time, Robert Hughes described Arbus as saying “What I’m trying to describe, is that it’s impossible to get out of your skin into somebody else’s. And that’s what all this is a little bit about. That somebody else’s tragedy is not your own.”
(Excerpts from Susan Sontag: On Photography)
Though most viewers are ready to imagine that these people, the citiznes of the sexual underworld as well as the genetic freks, are unhappy, few of the picutres acutally show emotional distress. The photographs of deviates and real freaks do not accent their pain but, rather, their detachment and autonomy. The female impersonators in their dressing rooms, the Mexican dwarf in his Manhattan hotel room, the Russian midgets in a living room on 100th Street, and their kin are mostly shown as cheerful, self-accepting, matter-of-fact.
Pain is more legible in the portraits of the normals: the quarreling elderly couple on a park bench, the New Orleans lady bartender at home with a souvenir dog, the boy in Central Park clenching his toy hand grenade.
Instead of trying to coax her subjects into a natural or typical position, they are encouraged to be awkward–that is, to pose. (Thereby, the relevation of self gets identified with what is strange, odd, askew.) Sanding or sitting stiffly makes them seem like images of themsleves.
Diane Arbus, Mrs. T. Charlton Henry, fashion luminary, in her Chestnut Hill home in Philadelphia, Harper’s Bazaar, July 1965
Most Arbus pictures have the subjects looking straight into the camera. This often makes them look ven odder, almost deragned.
Insofar as looking at Arbus’ photographs is, undeniably, an ordeal, they are typical of the kind of art popular among sophisticated urban people right now: art that is a self-willed test of hardness. Her photographs offer an occasion to demonstrate that life’s horror can be faced without squeamishness.
Arbus’ work is a good instance of a leading tendency of high art in capialist countries: to suppress, or at least reduce, moral and sensory queasiness.
Much of modern art is devoted to lowering the threshold of what is terrible.
The gradual suppression of queasiness does bring us closer to a rather formal truth– that of the arbitrariness of the taboos constructed by art and morals.
In the long run, it works out not as a liberation of but as a subtraction from the self: a pseudo-familiarity with the horrible reinforces alienation, making one less able to react in real life.
The photographs make a compassionate response feel irrelevenat.
To photograph peope, according to Arbus, is neecessarily "cruel," "mean." The important thing is not to blink.