Reading Task – The photographic works of Diane Arbus – My thoughts

Much has been said and written about Arbus and her work, but I wonder if too much has been read into her photographs?  The images used to critique her work style all appear to poses those elements of the sublime, they have that something, that punctum that Barthes coined (1) and which all photographers strive to find from their subjects.  These images were selected out of Arbus’s for a specific exhibition and book to commemorate her life.

Looking at other photos that she took, I read different rhetorical codes.  I have chosen eight photographs that Arbus took from 1958 – 1965.  Two girls on the beach, Coney Island, N.Y. 1958; Susan Sontag and her son on bench, N.Y.C. 1965; Girl with Easter hat and flag, N.Y.C. 1965; Three boys at a baseball game in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962; Child running in the park, N.Y.C. 1959; Seated young couple on a park bench, N.Y.C. 1962; Young Puerto Rican couple on a bench, N.Y.C. 1962; Woman in long coat and dark hat, Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962.

These photographs follow the same compositional formula but are different in terms of an anti-humanist message (2).  Some of these subjects can carry messages of other: Two girls on the beach, Coney Island (the brunette looks masculine and the blonde girl with her hand through her arm suggests her lover).  Susan Sontag and her son on bench, N.Y.C. (the boy looks feminine and their pose again suggests two lesbians); Seated young couple on a park bench, N.Y.C. (the girlfriend’s coat and headscarf makes her look much and responsible than her teenage rock & roll boyfriend). Young Puerto Rican couple on a bench, N.Y.C. Again this photo is similar to the previous picture as the girlfriend wears a coat and headscarf to suggest maturity but both girls are wearing plimsolls which could suggest that they could both still be at school).  These photographs appear to concur with Badger’s observation that Sontag was a feminist and that she liked to photograph women to look more powerful than the men. (3)

But Girl with Easter hat and flag, N.Y.C.; Three boys at a baseball game in Central Park, N.Y.C.; Child running in the park, N.Y.C.; Woman in long coat dark hat, Central Park, N.Y.C. all appear to lack any sense of the strange or unusual, I cannot read any psychological or social message in these photographs on their own.  However, when I look at these four photos together, I then notice that only one picture is of Afro-Americans and that these children appear to be from a poorer background judging their clothes, shoes and damaged bat.  All the Caucasians appear to be wealthier and again as denoted from their clothes.

I believe that both Sontag and Badger are partly right in their observations however, Arbus was a photographer not a painter and she took photos of what she saw as it presented itself.  In a city like New York with a large park open to all, you will naturally find people of all classes; ethnic and sexual backgrounds.  This in reality simply reflects the democratic freedom of identity at the time the pictures were taken.

Bibliography

  1. Barthes, R. (2000), page 26.
  2. Sontage, S. (1977), pages 32-33.
  3. Badger, G. Essay, (1988).

Two girls on the beach, Coney Island, N.Y., 1958. Photo: Diane Arbus

Susan Sontag and her son on bench, N.Y.C. 1965. Photo: Diane Arbus

Girl with Easter hat and flag, N.Y.C. 1965. Photo: Diane Arbus

Three boys at a baseball game in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962. Photo: Diane Arbus.

Child running in the park, N.Y.C., 1959. Photo: Diane Arbus.

Seated young couple on a park bench, N.Y.C. 1962. Photo: Diane Arbus.

Young Puerto Rican couple on a bench, N.Y.C. 1962. Photo: Diane Arbus.

Woman in long coat and dark hat, Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962. Photo: Diane Arbus.

Published by shauncn512659

Hi, I am an OCA student studying for an Art degree in Photography , my student number is 512659. My e-mail is: shaun512659@oca.ac.uk

One thought on “Reading Task – The photographic works of Diane Arbus – My thoughts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create your website with WordPress.com
Get started
%d bloggers like this: