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.
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.
…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….
…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
…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….
…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/