Thursday 23 February 2012

More about Diane Arbus

I found some wonderful quotes by Diane Arbus that are totally underknown. You cannot escape Arbus's art, it is searing and unforgettable. She created some of the scariest images ever made by an Amercian artist.

I cannot reproduce any of her photographs here as her estate like to determine where her brilliant images are accessed.

Arbus on work
I hated painting and I quit right after high school because I was continually told how terrific I was… it made me feel shaky. I remember I hated the smell of the paint and the noise it would make when I put my brush to the paper. Sometimes I wouldn’t really look but just listen to this horrible squish, squish, squish. I didn’t want to be told I was terrific. I had the sense that if I was so terrific at it, it wasn’t worth doing.
Radio interview with Studs Terkel, 1968

In the beginning of photographing I used to make very grainy things. I’d be fascinated by what the grain did because it would make a kind of tapestry of all these little dots and everything would be translated into this medium of dots. Skin would be the same as water would be the same as sky and you were dealing mostly in dark and light, not so much in flesh and blood… It was my teacher, Lisette Model, who finally made it clear to me that the more specific you are, the more general it’ll be…
from Diane Arbus, Aperture, 1972

They are the proof that something was there and no longer is. Like a stain. And the stillness of them is boggling. You can turn away but when you come back they’ll still be there looking at you.
from a letter to Davis Pratt, Fogg Museum, Cambridge, 1971, in response to a request for a brief statement about photographs

On her subjects
I am working on something now, the eccentrics I have so long thought of, or rather people who visibly believe in something everyone doubts, and remembering A Commodity of Dreams [the title of Howard Nemerov’s collected short stories, published by Secker & Warburg, London, 1960] I wondered if there were any such anywhere round your vicinity which would provide me the excuse and oppty for a visit… Any impostors, or people with incredibly long beards, or ones who believe in the imminent end of the world, or are reincarnations or keep lions in their living room or embalmed bodies or even skeletons, or have developed some especial skill like a lady in Florida who is meant to eat and sleep underwater, or affect some remarkable costume or other, or collect things to the point of miserliness? Don’t trouble about it, or bother to answer, unless when you look up from the page the Messiah comes wandering out of the woods…
Letter to Howard Nemerov, her brother, 1960

One summer I worked a lot in Washington Square Park... The park was divided. It has these walks, sort of like a sunburst, and there were these territories staked out. There were young hippie junkies down one row. There were lesbians down another, really tough amazingly hard-core lesbians. And in the middle were winos. They were like the first echelon and the girls who came from the Bronx to become hippies would have to sleep with the winos to get to sit on the other part with the junkie hippies... I got to know a few of them. I hung around a lot. They were a lot like sculptures in a funny way. I was very keen to get close to them, so I had to ask to photograph them. You can’t get that close to somebody and not say a word, although I have done that.
from Diane Arbus, Aperture, 1972

I was riding my bicycle on Third Avenue and she was with a friend of hers. They were enormous, both of them, almost six feet tall, and fat. I thought they were big lesbians. They went into a diner and I followed them and asked if I could photograph them. They said, “Yes, tomorrow morning.” Subsequently they were apparently arrested and spent the night in jail being booked. So the next morning I got to their house around 11… The first thing they said was, “I think we should tell you” – I don’t know why they felt so obligated – “we’re men.”
from Diane Arbus, Aperture, 1972

On life
I suppose freedom is a bit eerie. It’s what I want but something in me tries to pretend I can’t. And there is so much work to working that there are moments, moments, where I stop and look around and it seems too arduous to go on. It isn’t of course. But that is why people have jobs and pay checks... it helps keep you from unanswerable questions.
Letter to her friend Carlotta Marshall, circa November 1969

I used to think consciousness itself was a virtue, so I tried to keep it all in my head at the same time; past, future etc. Tried even to feel the bad when I felt good and vice versa as if any unawareness was a Marie-Antoinette sort of sin. It’s like throwing ballast overboard to only do what there is to do NOW. A kind of confidence that later will bring its own now… It makes Sunday more Sunday and even Monday is better…
Letter to ex husband Allan Arbus, 1971

(By the way - I know underknown is not an English word, but I need its meaning – underknown says a lot).

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