You can also request things like research papers or dissertations. She starts off with the vision of Walt Whitman who rejected the distinction between beautiful and ugly for a cause of seeing America united in perception. In the first decades of photography photographs were expected to idealize images, and a beautiful picture was thought to be a picture of something beautiful. But as photography developed more and more artistic interest was directed to the less-glorified, banal and casual aspects of American life, the realization Whitman's vision. Sontag holds that to take a picture is to assign importance. But this importance varies in culture and history, from the pursuit of "worthy" subjects to the Andy Warhol stance of "anybody is somebody".
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I had already planned to write a blog post about Diane Arbus and been looking at her images, read a few websites etc, when I stumbled on the chapter 'America, Seen Through Photographs, Darkly' in Susan Sontag's 'On Photography'. So first I'd like to discuss this chapter and how Sontag describes whether photography is a private vision versus a reflection of reality.
She shows that Diane Arbus' work is mostly a result of her own voluntary consciousness. That even the weirdness and sadness that the subjects show is a result of her private vision and have little to do with the subjects themselves.
Susan Sontag describes how photography shifted from 'showing identity between things which are different Whitman's democratic vista to images where everybody is shown to look the same'. Even pain and terrible atrocities are presented in the same way, as 'Art that is a self willed test of hardness' High art in capitalist countries is there 'to surpres, or at least reduce moral and sensory queasiness.
Much of modern art is devoted to lowering the threshold of what is terrible'. Diane Arbus' work is a pure example of this shift. I find Susan Sontag's conclusion very striking. The price of this shift is that photography does not serve as 'a liberation, but as a subtraction from the self'. According to Sontag Arbus is not an ethical photojournalist, nor does she show any moral values in her work. Her work is an escape from boredom, a drive to explore the reality that she missed in her upperclass Jewish upbringing.
Maybe that's why her photographs don't arouse a certain compassion for the subjects, it seems irrelevant to have any feelings towards them at all. Susan Sontag describes Arbus way of photography as a colonization of new experiences, finding a new way to look at familiar subjects, a fight against boredom. Reading quotes from Arbus on the internet, I notice that her ideas of the work only reflect Sontag's in part.
Isn't it that the most important aspect of her photography was to get the subjects to look weird, estranged? In some images I read a direct reaction to Arbus' on the subjects faces.
There is obviously a clash of misunderstanding going on and not a willingness to open up to each other. In the case of Arbus, to wait with shooting the image till the subject is at ease, or in case of the subject, to be tolerant of the strange photographer in front of them.
There's a decision from both sides that determine the look of the photograph, although the photographer always has the last say in what is portrayed. When I looked up these images I stumbled upon an article that has a completely different view on Arbus' work and has changed my look on her as well. In its conclusion it says:. Diane Arbus fashioned her own, cogent critique of American mores, enlivened by an absorbing inversion of finite sexual roles and gender imperatives.
Her view was complex, highly individual, perhaps a little perverse, but never perverted - a sad moving testament to the human condition. I don't feel I have the capacity to express my thoughts and gut feelings in the same way the authors of these articles have done. For now is most important to realize how quickly I'm influenced by different point of views and that also a critique is never objective and always made from a certain paradigm which might not even be suitable for making claims about the art that is discussed.
How can I develop a way of thinking critically when reading these kind of texts and looking at art? What are my inner drives and convictions to take photographs and how much do I let these drives rule the outcomes, or am I still working from other people's examples, or ideas of how photos are supposed to be taken?
Questions to ask myself: 1.
Sontag knew her personally and was on occasion photographed by her. She applies a method of critical analysis using her philosophical and literary expertise to inform her understanding of the work. But before we can talk about his influence, we need to evaluate what influenced him. But his main influences was Philosophy and Religion. All philosophies and religions as known to him in his time. It alludes to his embracing of everything. Whitman called for Americans to become lyrical about everything.
On Photography - America, Seen Through Photographs, Darkly Summary & Analysis
This is quite the morbid chapter… very morbid indeed! It surrounds around how photography in america shifted from romantic to very dark and dangerous. How One photographer in-particular Diane Arbus who took images which made everybody look like a freak. That everyone doing whatever it is they do everyday and portray them in a freakish and disturbing manner. Consequentially and strangely enough her work on circus freaks had a sense of calm and compliance with being ugly or considered a freak.