Lee Grant – Photography Blog

Revelations Indeed…. Diane Arbus’ Legacy

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My doorbell rang at some ungodly hour the other morning and naturally Zeke our chocolate pooador went beserk. So I hauled myself out of bed to receive not a person but a gorgeous parcel all the way from USandA! My first Amazon purchase had arrived at last! Diane Arbus – Revelations, the accompanying book authorised by her estate (aka, her very protective daughter, Doon), to the 2005 SFMoMA travelling retrospective of her work. Of course, the exhibition didn’t make it down under, which is disappointing though not surprising (I think we still miss out a lot in this regard).

Book Cover of Diane Arbus – Revelations (courtesy of Amazon)


Anyway I finally got to take a bit of a look this morning while a gaggle of children started Xmassing the house. And I can honestly say that I’m in love. Arbus’ work is sheer genius… Turning the pages to see work that I’ve never seen was about as close to a religious experience that I’ve ever had. Reading about her ‘workflow‘ for want of a better word, or perhaps better, her methodology was really eye-opening. Copious notes and glad to see that like myself, she was a compulsive diary keeper with appointments and rendez-vous all over the place with some extra/ordinary people in the truest sense of the word.

What I found really curious were her proof sheets and the images which she had selected for printing – usually marked by a circle or reference number on the proof itself. Interestingly I found some of her unchosen images more interesting than the ones selected. Despite this however there is little doubt that she was an excellent editor of her own work. A task that all photographers must critically face at some point in their artistic journeys…. It certainly isn’t an easy thing to do though my way of dealing with this is to be as intuitive as possible.

Also revealing were some of the themes that she worked on which are not necessarily well known. Some of these were surprisingly similar to my own which was a little concerning for me (eg. marriage, children, rites of passage, performers etc…). There is no denying that I count Arbus as one of my biggest influences but her method and approach – from what I have read in this book – were bizzarely like mine. I wonder then, if being a woman (ergo wife and mother) forms the basis of such an approach? Where one is so intrinsically caught up in the family momentum that personal well-being gets forgotten and once remembered is poured heart and soul into the pursuit of regaining that lost world of the past. Photography is a cathartic thing in this sense – an almost compulsive obsessive habit of re-ordering and re-imagining one’s life….. Well, for me anyway.

No doubt I will continue to pore over this beatific tome in the days to come.

5 stars from me.

Written by Lee Grant

November 24, 2007 at 3:08 pm

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