Arbus and Co.

?– If anyone knows who did this picture, holler. I saw it in a compilation or group show site and have since forgotten who the hell took it…

Irving Penn

I have no idea, but there’s some great photos collected without any explanation on this page.

Did you know that Anderson Cooper was a Vanderbilt? And he was photographed by Arbus when he was a baby according to Bosworth’s Arbus bio. The passage is reproduced with the photo here. I also found a great blog with a whole bunch of less known photos here.

The bio was decent. The bits about her wandering the streets and getting to know her subjects were interesting, but I hadn’t known that she sought random sex with so many strangers after her marriage broke up or that she was so insecure about her work. According to this book, apparently what ultimately led to her decision to kill herself was the feeling that she no longer had complete control over her pictures. She established herself taking pictures of offbeat people in a confrontational way that more and more aggressive and somewhat dishonest as time passed, but when she photographed the ‘retardates’ at a mental hospital, they didn’t pay attention to her, just went on doing what they were doing, and she couldn’t dictate what happened in the frame or suggest poses or get the reactions she wanted. That, combined with her feeling of being alone – no husband, daughters are grown, friends have their own families – seems to have put her into an unalleviated depressive state that she refused to treat with anti-depressants since a toxic reaction to some drugs had led to a case of hepatitis previously.

She sure produced some stunning images, but it seems like she emphasized subject matter over composition to some degree, and finishing the book left me with a sense of grungy pathetic ugliness. I’m sure some think that she was a free spirit, but to me she just seemed like a very insecure woman who never managed to reconcile her childhood training that a woman should be submissive and serve her husband and marriages last forever, etc, with the desire to excel and have a career of her own. Not to judge her exactly, but damn, her way of dealing with shit by having a lot of random sex just seems a bit sordid. Is the art world really so full of promiscuity and neurotic people??

She seemed to be a great teacher though. Some of her assignments were to bring in favorite objects (to recognize that it’s not only art which moves people) and talk about failed attempts to photograph, etc. Yet her methods were just so aggressive (telling people it’d be a headshot when she includes their bare breasts, purposely waiting for unflattering expressions…). I wonder if she would’ve been a lot more stable and successful if she’d lived now. But maybe things wouldn’t be the way they are now if she hadn’t done what she did then. Who knows.


The last week or so I’ve been in sort of a grumpy mood. First, tried going back to digital for a bit for WNL, but it was weird. To begin with, the Clarences had set up to take the most advantage of the webcam, so they lined up in a row and were very hard to isolate for individual portraits unobstructed by mic stands and cables. Added to that, I had the 35mm instead of the 24mm, so I was unable to get in close and avoid the stands while getting a whole torso shot. Everything looked too tight and flat and dark and small that it was a little disconcerting. I crept around trying for angles, but didn’t’ feel like I saw a single good frame. That was such a weird feeling that I freaked out – “Go to film, go to film!” I thought, and of course, it’s when you’re panicky that you do dumbass things.

Panic + rangefinder = lens cap disaster. I shot a whole roll of 120 film with the lens cap on. No idea why the band didn’t notice and point it out. I think the drummer was the only one to notice. Gave me a damn weird look that I couldn’t interpret at the time. Haha. When I changed rolls I noticed and felt like an idiot. Tried to reshoot some of the frames but dunno, none of the shots came out that great for the way they were dressed and mugging it up.

Then missed a shot when I was coming around a corner up the 101. The light was just right and the fog was rolling in, giving the foreground a golden look while the background was grey and murky. I got off at the next exit and turned around but exits were a little far in between and the light doesn’t stay the same for long at that time of day, so by the time I swung back around five minutes later, the sun had gone too far down the hill. I think I’ll keep my camera around when I drive that stretch.


~ by Jin on July 29, 2008.

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