spirit of the forbidden

The unvarnished truth. Banal attractiveness sauntering into the realm of tedious familiarity? Bourgeois effrontery through others as a form of marketable cliche?  Diane Arbus remains somewhat of a mystery. There is a contrast here, marked, between a Helen Levitt, Cartier-Bresson and Arbus. Perhaps it was because the unstable Arbus was able to wrap herself around the spirit of the forbidden, going into bizarre areas of the psyche where the deformed and twisted body was a metaphor for a world almost Kafka like in his use of the strange hybrid-breed animals/human combination creatures. Figures of biological oddity. Like Kafka’s animals, a sphere of the forgotten and neglected who border between particular life forms. In that scheme of thought, to Arbus, the “freaks” held a certain joy in pure existence, and a wisdom that she found fascinating, one that was inaccessible to human reflection and in juxtaposition to their generally anxious dispositions.

But, for all Arbus’s  inventiveness, her craft,  the ingenuity  with which she grappled to re-invent and re-articulate the body in her own mind; it does  suggests that the human body is one of the wonders of nature, no matter how out of the ordinary,  that no art form can really do satisfactory justice to, however it may compelling appear to. The body is always moving and growing, continually refreshing and renewing itself, whereas  art fossilizes  it into a temporal and contextual absolute.

---If Arbus undoubtedly felt at home among the outsiders she photographed, she also experienced a frisson of guilty pleasure when photographing them. "There's some thrill in going to a sideshow," she once confessed of her nocturnal visits to the circus tents of Coney Island, where performers were still earning a living in the 1960s. "I felt a mixture of shame and awe." Her works make us question not just her motives for looking at what the critic Susan Sontag – with typical hauteur – called "people who are pathetic, pitiable, as well as repulsive", but also our own. In perhaps the most angry essay in her book On Photography, Sontag insists that Arbus's gaze is "based on distance, on privilege, on a feeling that what the viewer is asked to look at is really other".--- Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/jul/26/diane-arbus-photography-sideshow image:http://www.lilyandlamb.com/1/post/2011/6/diane-airbus-a-photographer-of-freaks.html

Arbus: “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know….”Freaks was a thing I photographed a lot. … 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.”….

Representations of the naked body do afford a certain voyeuristic satisfaction, however  imperfect and removed from the ideal of fantasy. There is always that wonder, at least sometimes,  of what other  bodies are like, and a projection of what it might be  to engage with them them. To kind of  spy on them seen through the optic of works of art can lend  a type of vicarious thrill of relationship, appealing to many, although  the  satisfaction is often narcissistic , since this  other body is somehow a mirror of our own,or part of our own…. with all its flaws and blemishes, and even grotesque naturalness.

---Nevertheless, Arbus's black-and-white portraits – particularly of those with mental disabilities or physical abnormalities – retain their power to unsettle and disturb. Here, whatever her intention, the cruel often seems to outweigh the tender. What's more, her portraits always send us back to Arbus: to her need to not just photograph but befriend her subjects; her seemingly insatiable fascination with the unusual; her often fragile state of mind. (She killed herself for reasons that remain mysterious.)---Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/jul/26/diane-arbus-photography-sideshow image:http://themorbidimagination.com/art/diane-arbus-and-freaks-1932/


…one “treasure” remains, the allegedly grisly self-orchestrated photograph of Arbus’ suicide. According to the revelation in the Arbus exhibition catalogue, Diane Arbus over a chilling weekend set up a series of cameras, which depicted over a lengthy period her self-immolation slitting her wrists in a bathtub.

So, while everything Arbus appears to have been dumped on the public, the tease remains. Perhaps we will see Nicole Kidman in the forthcoming Arbus biopic earning another Oscar by slitting her thin Aussie wrists in the bathtub, but this still will not satisfy the hunger for what lies beyond….

---But a humanist? Only if your view of humanity is essentially pessimistic and tinged with neurotic narcissism. Arbus may have felt an enormous empathy with the people she photographed, but she was not one of them, however much she identified with their outsider status. She had her own troubles, but they were of a different order. The work she left behind remains powerful not just because of its dark formal beauty or its stark vision, but because it asks questions of the viewer about the limits of looking, about the vicariousness and predatory nature of photography, and about our complicity in all of this. When we look at an Arbus photograph, we cannot help feeling that we are intruders or voyeurs, even though her subjects are tied to a time and place that has all but vanished. A sense of complicity – hers and ours – lies at the very heart of her power. Her images hold us in their sway even when our better instincts tell us to look away. Perhaps her greatest gift is that she understood that conflict instinctively, and did more than anyone to exploit it artistically.--- Read More:http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2011/jul/26/diane-arbus-photography-sideshow image:http://freeimagefinder.com/tag/misfit.html

…For guidance let’s turn to Marcel Duchamp’s Etant Donnes, the secret project ultimately revealed in the PMA after Duchamp’s death. Since art is all about what we most want to see and aren’t allowed to see in this context, perhaps the Arbus daughters could arrange for these tantalizingly presumably unlookable photographs to be released after their deaths.Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/finch/finch9-12-05.asp
One of the charges leveled against Arbus is that her work exploited and demeaned her subjects. The same charge has been made against Freaks ( Tod Browning, 1932). This is despite the fact that many of Arbus’ subjects were happy with her work and that many of the performers

reaks, interviewed years later, painted their experience on the film as positive….

---Diane Arbus A family one evening in a nudist camp, Pa. 1965 © The Estate of Diane Arbus --- Read More:http://www.masters-of-photography.com/A/arbus/arbus_nudist_full.html

…Taking that into account, and acknowledging that Freaks is generally a sympathetic portrayal of sideshow performers where the “normal” people are the monsters, you can’t escape the truth that in both cases, deformity and ugliness give these important works their power.

Freaks is one of the greatest horror movies of all time, and it would not have been so if it had relied on putty appliances, costumes, or lighting tricks to change normal actors into freaks. For most of it’s running time, the freaks are portrayed in ordinary domestic situations: playing cards, washing clothes, or discussing circus business. But in the final act, when they turn on the evil bare-back rider and her accomplice the strongman, it is their alieness that supplies the chills….

Mae West. 1965. ---https://tigerloaf.wordpress.com/tag/diane-arbus/

…Arbus’ work plays the same card. My personal favorite Arbus photograph: “Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park” seems somewhat staged, which lends credence to the idea that she exploited her subjects, but it’s the final effect which matters. Read More:http://themorbidimagination.com/art/diane-arbus-and-freaks-1932/

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