Monday, 30 January 2012

inspired by... diane arbus

30th January 2012 (b/w photo taken in the mid 2000s) © Lise Utne
(by Lise Utne)

"The two Emmas" (left) is representative of a photographic style I pursued for a while. Black and white film was freely available for what seemed a reasonable price, or at least worth the sacrifice: I still have a couple of 20-packs in the fridge. I paid to have the films developed, because it was more practical and slightly more reliable than doing it myself. I've only printed copies of a few (in my makeshift darkroom, enlarger on top of the tumble drier). There is a large stack of negatives on my bookshelf that I would love to see if I can make something of. I need a scanner. Preferably a good one.

But my point here is the photographic style. To a great extent, I've been influenced by "the usual suspects". Living in the US for a year around the turn of the millennium, with time on my hand in a college town with a well-stocked public library and several second-hand bookstores within reach, I took a deep dive into a world of top-class photography. Diane Arbus's books were among my favourites.

The received opinion seems to be that Arbus photographed "freaks", and she herself suggested that people who might be described that way were somehow nobler than the rest. I never consider anyone I photograph a "freak". On the contrary, I consider all people equals. I like to think that I approach my photographic subjects with an attitude of deep respect and a feeling of mystery. To a certain extent, I think Arbus did the same, except from a different angle -- it seems that she wanted to show us that we are all "freaks", especially those of us who consider ourselves normal:

Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph
"Everybody has a thing where they need to look one way but they come out looking another way and that's what people observe. You see someone on the street and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw. It's just extraordinary that we should have been given these peculiarities. And, not content with what we are given, we create a whole other set. Our whole guise is like giving a sign to the world to think of us in a certain way but there's a point between what you want people to know about you and what you can't help people knowing about you. And that has to do with what I've always called the gap between intention and effect. I mean if you scrutinize reality closely enough, if in some way you really, really get to it, it becomes fantastic. You know it really is totally fantastic that we look like this and you sometimes see that very clearly in a photograph. Something is ironic in the world and it has to do with the fact that what you intend never comes out like you intend it. // 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 the same as your own." (Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph. Edited and designed by Doon Arbus and Marvin Israel. New York: Aperture, 1972. Pp. 1-2.)

3rd February 2012 (b/w shot: mid 2000s) © Lise Utne 
I admire Arbus's photographic style. Sometimes, using certain angles and light conditions and surroundings, portraits can result that are quite striking. Portraits that suggest quite insistingly by showing what people look like that people are more than surface. Portraits that are the antithesis of the slick "look" we are constantly bombarded with, seemingly trying to convince us that we should all strive to look the same and have the same ideals and priorities. So I admire Arbus both for her photographic style and for the fact that she chose to photograph people from different walks of life. People with different appearances and lifestyles.

I still think Diane Arbus was on to something.

(Blog post last revised 3rd February 2012.)

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