Friday, January 3, 2014

Avedon and the Tortured Jewish Soul

I watched two excellent programs yesterday about photography. The first was from a series called "Masters of Photography" about Diane Arbus who was a really interesting person. It consisted of interviews with her daughter, best friend, and teacher (3 different people, not just adjectives for one person) and then her own words as read by another good friend. I love the idea of photographer of freaks, she really managed to capture images of people we would normally wish we could stare at but wouldn't all while not turning them into objects. They stare directly into the camera and appraise the viewer with the same frankness and without any sense of shame about their condition. The images remind me of the fact that we are all only used to our own way of existing and it isn't alarming to us in the same way it is to anyone else when they first encounter it. 

A Diptych: The computer is in the window of this exterior shot but the lines worked together so nicely, I thought I would put them in a single image. I plan on experimenting more with multiple image compositions.
It also made me think about a German project to create mannequins that were based not on the Putnamm perfect body but rather on the bodies of the deformed. Watching the models as measurements were taken of their bodies, I realized for the first time how perfectly comfortable they were in their own skin. That it was possible that they didn't spend every waking moment wishing they were different, but rather that they thought about it as little as anyone else and then maybe only wished their bodies were thought beautiful, rather than so much that they wished they were different. There was a look of wonder and appreciation and true enjoyment at seeing their bodies turned into these mannequins that I had not expected. Then, it was interesting to watch the reactions of the people walking by the storefronts where these mannequins were placed. Sometimes, the bodies of mannequins are so actually inhumanly deformed that it wasn't immediately apparent if these were simply more imaginations of what the human body might be propagated by fashion designers. It made me realize how freakish the 'normal' mannequins actually are. In the comments on the video, some people condemned the reaction of the people who saw the window displays because they looked surprised or disgusted. I wonder though if, since they did not know about the project, if they thought they were just more fantastical inventions by designers or had been created to make fun of. It seems to me that it would be important for people to stare and try to form their own bodies to the same positions in an effort to really understand and relate to the shapes of the human body. After all, children imitate not to mock (until they are taught to really) but more simply to connect and understand. There is a curiosity that we are never allowed to satisfy and a feeling that there is something shameful that really needs to be addressed.

The second program that I watched was about Richard Avedon called Darkness and Light. Avedon has been criticized for being so self-promoting, but I really can't imagine how he could have gotten where he is with the amount of humility people would like to see him exhibit, it's just not the way things work, especially in the arts. He is also looked down upon by some as a commercial photographer rather than an artist, but I think that's just silly. He has done commercial work and he has created art, they are not always both, sometimes his images are one or the other, but really the dichotomy is much more of a gradation than a division. People seem to think if you make money or have a client it is a commercial work rather than art, but there isn't any particular need for this distinction, at least most of the time. So many people are just snobs. Avedon seems to possess that same anxiety and the emotional swings from certainty of genius to absolute despair that are so common in artists and in a form so common to the Jewish cultural personality. Even when we are agnostics or atheists, there is some part of that culture that seems to be passed on and almost inescapable. In any case, I identified with a lot of the ways he expressed his ideas and was very impressed by his photography.

I was also taken with his self promotion and thought that I really should continue my efforts - part of me really enjoys it and the other part is sort of disgusted by the idea of saying how good I am (and another part think I'm lying while another thinks, "yeah, damn right.") 

In the meantime, however, I took some pictures of rats.