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A faint sinister deadness
Old 06-18-2019   #1
Freakscene
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A faint sinister deadness

Mike Johnston, formerly the Editor of Photo Techniques magazine, and lately of the blog The Online Photographer, is recovering from a corneal transplant. Itís a pretty difficult thing to happen to a self-employed photography writer. In his absence he is posting some old blog posts again. This one:
https://theonlinephotographer.typepa...log_index.html
is from 2006 and is among my favourite pieces of photo writing. I was a student of Arbus when I studied photography, and I regard this as among the most incisive short pieces on a photographer who is much studied but still rarely understood. The whole 10-1 series, and the blog generally, is worth a look if you are not familiar. It would also help Mike to keep the traffic up while he recuperates.

Marty
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Old 06-18-2019   #2
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Thanks for the link Marty.

The first time I ever looked at an Arbus image I was immediately struck by the way it made me feel.
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Old 06-18-2019   #3
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When I was a young lad a local punk band (SNFU) - with some international success- was sued by the Arbus estate for using one of her photos without permission for an album cover (punk, right?). As a result, she was the first art photographer that I knew by name- besides Ansel Adams
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Old 06-18-2019   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by benlees View Post
When I was a young lad a local punk band (SNFU) - with some international success- was sued by the Arbus estate for using one of her photos without permission for an album cover (punk, right?). As a result, she was the first art photographer that I knew by name- besides Ansel Adams
...And No One Else Wanted to Play, right? Yes:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...And...Wanted_to_Play
The first versions used Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park as the cover.

I gather Doon Arbus is quite aggressively protective of her mother's legacy, understandably given how often her images appear to have been used in an unauthorised manner.

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Old 06-19-2019   #5
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Neil Selkirk is the only authorised printer of Arbus' work:
https://www.metmuseum.org/press/exhi...politan-museum
But the scan on Mike's The Online Photographer post about the Twins photo is unusual in that the Selkirk and Arbus prints look very similar. In most other Arbus photos the Selkirk prints of Arbus' photo have amazing macro contrast and were obviously made with a very well aligned enlarger with a highly collimated light source—the grain is visible despite the 6x6 negative. But the dodging and burning are also quite obvious. In Child With a Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, the dodging around where the young Colin Wood's overall strap has fallen off his left shoulder (so on the viewer's right in the photo) is a good example. The Arbus prints of that and her other photos are less technically perfect but compellingly odd, with asymetrical, messy borders, very subtle dodging, and highlights with a very bright contrasty look which speaks strongly of bleach to anyone who spent a lot of time in the darkroom. Auction records suggest that prices are higher for Arbus prints, just in case you are in that sort of market.

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Old 06-19-2019   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Freakscene View Post
...And No One Else Wanted to Play, right? Yes:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/...And...Wanted_to_Play
The first versions used Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park as the cover.

I gather Doon Arbus is quite aggressively protective of her mother's legacy, understandably given how often her images appear to have been used in an unauthorised manner.

Marty

Indeed. I still have the album- I think only the American version had to be radically changed. Years later I took an Arbus book out of the public library and that particular photo had been cut out...
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Old 06-19-2019   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by benlees View Post
Indeed. I still have the album- I think only the American version had to be radically changed. Years later I took an Arbus book out of the public library and that particular photo had been cut out...
Maybe Colin Wood travels the US trying to erase his image!? That would make a great plot for a novel.

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Old 06-20-2019   #8
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Arbus photography is not easy, the TOP linked above helps in understanding it.
I'm a regular reader of the TOP and find Mike Johnston thoughts very oft stimulating...
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Old 06-20-2019   #9
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Not being as interested in portraiture myself until recent years, I had only seen the handful of typically reproduced pictures but come across a lot of what was written about Arbus just tangentially, before I saw a larger selection of her work (specifically the book on the Arbus/Friedlander/Winogrand show).

When I actually looked at her work seriously, I was surprised to find that I completely disagreed with the characterizations of her images as "freak show" (e.g., Sontag), sinister, etc. Out of context you can twist a handful of images that way, but no. To me, her body of work radiates empathy for her subjects and underlines their humanity. In other words, to me it is the very opposite of freak show, but maybe it's because I'm a freak and my friends are freaks. I can see how it could look like that to the average middle of the road spectator who just doesn't have the ability to put themselves in the place of the subject, or of the photographer.
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Old 06-20-2019   #10
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Mike is a self proclaimed starter rather than finisher, but for everyone's sake I do hope he finishes his book. ...and gets well soon.
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Old 06-20-2019   #11
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Arbus gets criticized for using people w/ developmental disabilities as models, and you have to wonder if they were aware of the way that the photos would be on display nationally and internationally. Of course, someone's guardian would have had to sign the model release for them, and I know myself that as a photographer the main thing is to get the shot (by any means necessary as Stokely Carmichael so astutely put it), but for that reason there's some murkiness to her work. The images are powerful, but then they should have been, as they were photos of people that were seldom, if ever, the subject of formal photographic portraiture.

I wish Mike all the best. Love his blog.
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