I read an article today in the online magazine Salon, about a movie recounting the life and work of the famous photographer Diane Arbus. The movie is called, "Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus." I normally very much enjoy reading Salon, I think they have a lot of intelligent left-leaning things to say. But the article published today by Stephanie Zacharek, their regular film critic, really bothered me. She obviously does not know anything about Diane Arbus' work, and she takes the opportunity to critic Arbus' work when she is really supposed to be critiquing the movie.
You can read the article here (you will have to watch a short advertisement to visit the site for free), but basically the gist is this:
"But the portraits taken by the real Diane Arbus have a distinct sense of otherness: She doesn't commune with her subjects -- she displays them. There's rarely any evidence that she actually likes them, or has even thought about them as human beings."
"The movie asks us to believe that the woman behind the camera was actually a nice person, which is a lovely idea, until you actually look at her pictures."
However obvious it is from just reading those snippits above, let me have some fun by pointing out how this commentary is not intelligently executed:
For example; The famous photograph, The Twins (pictured above). If you actually take a moment to ponder the photograph you will notice that the identical twins are much different from one another. It is a comment on comparisons and what it means to be "pretty." It is not about putting them on display. You could perhaps go so far as to say that its a comment on how American society puts twin girls on display by constantly comparing them to one another. However, if you were to say that Diane Arbus' work is about putting her subjects on display you might as well say that about every photographer. Isn't that what a photograph does automatically, by putting something into a frame?
It is well known among the art community that Diane Arbus photographed "freaks" because she felt like a freak herself. She felt like she was on the edge of society just like the people she photographed. This is completely contrary to what Ms. Zacharek is saying- that she photographed them to point out their "otherness." The only way Arbus pointed out their otherness was by saying she as an "other" too. Diane Arbus felt like she was one in the same with the people she photographed. That's why she photographed them.
As far as talking about the "niceness" factor of Diane Arbus- why even bring this up? What makes Ms. Zacharek think that just because her pictures weren't "nice" cuddly pictures of babies wrapped in silk in a blooming flower bud (Anne Geddes) that she isn't nice? What kind of ridiculousness is that?
By the way- however futile, I did post a comment about the article on Salon similar to what I wrote here.