Saturday, November 12, 2005

Diane Arbus in London

To review an exhibition I travelled all the way down to London... by Scottish Railway.

On the program of the Victoria & Albert Museum was Diane Arbus, a pioneering New York photographer.

Armed with books on Arbus from the College Library and a notebook,

...I was transported to London King's Cross Station.

The Victoria & Albert Museum looks quite impressive from the outside

... even more from the inside!

Glass ornament at the ceiling.

In 2000, a 30ft high, blown glass, chandelier by Dale Chihuly was installed as a focal point in the rotunda at the V&A's main entrance.

But, coming from the Underground I entered from the Tube entrance.

Interesting contrast of entrances, more on this 'tunnel' on Sunday's blog.

That's where we start the exhibition:

Diane Arbus - Revelations

A Biography of Diane Arbus:

On May 14 1923 in a Jewish/Russian, aristocratic family Nemerov in the fur coat business, her father being the director of Russeks, Fifth Avenue, New York, Diane - named after the heroine of the movie "Seventh Heaven" - is born.

Seventh Heaven (1927) heroine, Diane (played by Janet Gaynor)
Film by Director Frank Borzage

The sheer intensity of physical and romantic attraction attempting to obliterate the restrictions of time and space recurs in Borzage and has clear relations to fairy tale and myth as well to more immediate manifestations in Romanticism and Surrealism. André Breton (Surrealist) regarded the resolution of Seventh Heaven as a primary example of l'amour fou.

Russeks Fur Coats at Fifth Avenue, New York

Diane would later claim that she had been born "way up the ladder of middle class respectability" and was "clambering down as fast as I could ever since." She went on to establish herself as a photographer of renown, and marry actor Alan Arbus of “MASH” fame.

What makes Diane Arbus so phenomenal?

- Diane's dream was to photograph everybody in the world.

- That not being possible for time and distance, she tried to find 'average' human beings that would represent groups of people.

- Her teacher, Lisette Model, taught her that the more specific the picture, the more in general people could relate to it.

- The Chinese have a theory that one has to pass through boredom to find fascination.

- Diane wanted therefore to make pictures of the not-known (not boring) human beings, the 'forgotten'.

She wanted to evade the world of the eccentrics, the ugly, the freaks... by making pictures of them - straight into the face. "You see someone in the street and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw."

Therefore she visited nudists, freaks, twins ...

Couple at a Nudist Camp

The kid with the grenade. That would be Colin Wood, who is now 50 years old and an insurance agent living in Glendale, Calif. Wood has no memory of running into Arbus, which he did in Central Park one afternoon when he was 7. But he remembers that H.M.S. Pinafore outfit, and he recalls the type of toy grenade he is clutching so spasmodically in that picture. As fake weapons go, he recalls they were pretty annoying because they'd pop almost as soon as you threw them. "You couldn't throw it somewhere and duck," he says. "It blew up about a foot away."

They were 7 years old in 1967, when Arbus found the girls at a Christmas party for local twins and triplets. Nobody is quite sure how Arbus heard about the gathering, but a few parents obliged when she asked their children to pose. Which is how the Wade sisters wound up on a sidewalk, standing close enough to seem joined at the shoulder, their expression a kind of spectral blank.

People she would not have met when she had stayed within her confined aristocratic home.

So what happened to Diane?

She captured the loneliness of everyone. It's all people who want to connect but don't know how to connect. And I think that's how she felt about herself. She felt damaged and she hoped that by wallowing in that feeling, through photography, she could transcend herself.

Diane Arbus whilst teaching

- Diane tried to 'capture the souls' of mongols, but failed poorly.
"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."

- Not being able to enter the world of mongols made her furious. "They didn't look her in the eye, they didn't acknowledge her presence or tell her their stories, nor were they charmed or seduced by her."


- When she made a picture of a Jewish Giant, all of a sudden painters and sculptors became interested in her work. "I didn't want to be told it was terrific. I had the sense that if I was so terrific at it, it wasn't worth doing."

Jewish Giant visiting his parents

- "The world seemed to belong to the World. I could learn things, but they never seemed to be my own experience."

At the age of 48 all ended...

(from her biography...)

He found Diane dead, with her wrists slit, lying on her side in the empty bathtub. She was dressed in pants and shirt - her body was already "in a state of decomposition." On her desk her journal was open to July 26, and across it was scrawled "The last supper."

There is also a rumor that Diane had set up her camera and tripod and taken pictures of herself as she lay dying. However, when the police and coroner arrived, there was no evidence of camera or film.


"Once I dreamed I was on a gorgeous ocean liner. All pale, gilded, encrusted with rococo - like a wedding cake. There was smoke in the air and people were drinking and gambling. I knew the ship was on fire and we were sinking slowly; they knew it too, but were very gay and dancing and singing and a little delirious. There was no hope. I was terribly elated. I could photograph anything I wanted..."

1 comment:

Doerak said...

A new artistname Arbus in my 'dictionary'