Random neuron firing, lame philosophy, literary pontificating, movies, sex, clothes & other femme stuff

Saturday, January 10, 2004


In yesterday's times, Michael Kimmelman reviewed the new Arbus show at NYU. He promises, "I'll make my way toward a fuller verdict on Arbus's whole career," when the huge Arbus retrospective, "Revelations"--in San Francisco now and touring to a venue near you sooner or later (unless you live near me, in which case you'll have to go down to NY)--reaches the Met at the end of February. But you get an idea of the direction he's going to take.
The heavy formality of the transaction between photographer and subject announces itself. The girl is clearly responding to the person making this portrait, whose presence we sense. By its nature the picture tells us who this photographer is. She makes sure that we know.


Arbus trafficked in a kind of hothouse intimacy, which can easily be confused (as she occasionally wished) with sympathy, a moral pose. But she was not a "concerned photographer." Her work, like all allegorical art, comes down to formal manipulation. The cliché of her as the Sylvia Plath of photographers, combined with the way her photographs direct your attention to her presence, can obscure the difference between what is in the pictures and what we might like to read into them.


Arbus was the classic hunter-photographer shooting her fragile prey; her targets were rarefied specimens, exceptional cases; her mission was a clinical typology of difference. An element of violence was implicit.


Whether you admire or disdain her blatant sensationalism — because that's what it is — the quality of your reaction is a measure of her obvious graphic novelty.

I don't think Kimmelman would like John Waters either. He'd probably miss the point with him as well.

Here's something Arbus said:
Everybody has this thing where they need to look one way, but they come out looking another way, and that's what people observe.
It's true. It's my nightmare. It sometimes makes me wanna kill myself. Maybe it made her.

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