Diane Arbus Documents

I recently treated myself to this new book about Diane Arbus - think of it as a scrapbook of notices of exhibits.  I find her work to be one of the most ground breaking of the 20th century.  To be sure this opinion is not universally held.  Here are some of the controversial photos

A quote by Sir Cecil Beaton about Diane Arbus: “ I think she must’ve been a mess – no wonder she killed her self. She knew sorrow, but had no compassion. I am sad that those poor people trusted her and did not realize – in the case of the nudist pictures-that she is just there to make fun of them.”

Then we have: Terence Donovan: “She is the outstanding photographer of the last 10 years, simply because she’s done it differently. ”

And finally from my least favorite critic Susan Sontag:  Sontag promoted the idea that Arbus only photographed “freaks“

Sontag Sontag, perpetuated the idea, initially promoted by the critic, Gene Thornton,  in the New York Times, that Arbus sough to represent the people she photographed has freaks. In fact, Arbus use the individuals she photographed as freaks only as a term of occupation, description. Unfortunately, this other definition of her works still is common place. 

This is erroneous in my opinion.  Here is an extended negative critique of Susan Sontag as published in the Telegraph.co.uk

I wish I had kicked Susan Sontag

By Kevin Myers  

If ever a single person was living proof that intelligence is a meaningless quality without modest common sense, it was Susan Sontag who died last week. The reverential tone of the obituaries served to confirm that self-proclaimed intellectuals, no matter how deluded or preposterous, exert a strange, intimidating power over non-intellectuals – especially if they employ that infuriating literary device, the epigram. 

Beware the epigramista. Beneath the veneer of apparent profundity of the epigram’s internal contradiction, there is usually a deep well of meaninglessness, from which other intellectuals can extract similarly worthless academic baubles. The foremost proponent of the apparently profound but actually worthless epigram was Oscar Wilde – as in “All women become like their mothers. That is their tragedy. No man does. That’s his.” Haw haw haw. Dashed good, that, what? Only it isn’t. It’s flummery coated with a cheap and not very clever glitter. And such epigrams were what Sontag specialised in. Interpretation, she said, was “the revenge of the intellect upon art. Even more. It is the revenge of the intellect upon the world”. 

Can’t you hear the well-informed, mannerly discussions between all those New England professors with their bow-ties and tweed suits and rimless spectacles? But would that someone had treated Sontag in life as Dr Johnson had disposed of Bishop Berkeley’s contention that objects only exist because we see them: kicking a stone till he bounced off it, he snarled, “I refute it thus.”

I ran into her once, and my abject failure to give her the Johnson refutation haunts me still. Indeed, it might well be my greatest single delinquency, in a far from blameless life. It was in Sarajevo, during the siege in 1993, and she had arrived to stage a Bosnian version of Waiting for Godot. If memory serves – and possibly it doesn’t, no doubt clouded by guilt that I failed to put the wretched woman over my knee and give her a sound spanking – she had each of Beckett’s characters played by a Bosnian Muslim, a Bosnian Serb, and a Bosnian Croat.

By my personal reckoning, the performance lasted as long as the siege itself. It was mesmerisingly precious and hideously self-indulgent. As inexcusable as the pretentious twaddle she had mounted on-stage were her manners off it. I have occasionally seen egregious examples of de haut en bas, but I have never seen anything as degrading and insufferable as her conduct towards the Sarajevans. And as far as I could judge, she never listened to any of them, but only uttered lordly pronouncements as she held court in the Sarajevo Holiday Inn, while outside scores daily died. 

Meanwhile she ostentatiously disdained us hacks even as she sedulously courted us. It was a grotesque performance. My real mistake was not radioing her co-ordinates to the Serb artillery, reporting that they marked the location of Bosnian heavy armour. My own life would have been a cheap price to pay.

All right, so she read 10 books a day: but a brilliant intellect can often be the companion to a truly asinine personality – so step forward, Susan Sontag, and take a bow. Admittedly, the vainglorious silliness that was her most salient characteristic did not lead her to embrace the Marxism of so many similarly silly Cambridge intellectuals. But it did cause her to emulate within American public life the role of “intellectuals” in France: insufferably self-important and posturing creatures like Barthes, Foucault, Derrida. They were best characterised in the immortal words of that truly great English philosopher, Terry-Thomas: “What an absolute sharr.”

But wretched, credulous, self-hating American academia wanted to fawn on an intellectual whom popular culture could celebrate, and it chose Sontag and her vapid aphorisms. “The camera makes everyone a tourist in other people’s reality, and eventually in one’s own;” or: “What pornography is really about, ultimately, isn’t sex but death;” or: “Sanity is a cosy lie;” or: “Good health is the passing delusion of the doomed.”

Well, actually, the last one is mine. We can all do this kind of poser-cleverness, but we’ll never find our way into any dictionaries of quotation because one has to have a certain academic status before one’s pseudo-sage declarations come to be exalted as “sayings”. Yet Susan Sontag, the ridiculous heroine of US campus culture, couldn’t even count to three: “The two pioneering forces of modern sensibility are Jewish seriousness and homosexual aestheticism and irony.”

What’s it to be, Susie babe? Jewish seriousness? Homosexual aestheticism? Or homosexual irony? But hey, what about Jewish irony? Or Jewish aestheticism? Or homosexual seriousness?

Such bilge can only exist in Englitish, the impenetrable campus-dialect in which English literature is analysed, discussed and then buried. Susie’s gone now, but no doubt some other tongue will soon be babbling comparable Englitish gibberish in her stead. Meanwhile, I am left with the melancholy reflection, that yes, once I had my chance – and I bloody well blew it.

In Documents there are extended discussions of Sontag vs. Arbus.  Much of the diatribe by Sontag appeared 2 years after Arbus’ death - seems to me to be a cheap shot.  It doesn’t appear that Sontag ever engaged Arbus in a discussion of why she photographed what she did.  Her sentinel book  On Photography is so bad in my opinion that I had to sell it on eBay to get it out of the house.

Eastern Colorado

Goodland, KS


Flagler, CO

Some BW that I shot on my last trip to KS for 2022.  Shot with a Leica R4 and a 35-70 zoom on Adox Silvermax.  It was developed in the Silvermax developer but I’m not impressed with any kind of ‘zing’ with the outcome.  Is it the film or the developer?  Don’t know.

Thanksgiving in the Ozarks

NWA Airport

Johnny Morris Museum

Top of the Rock



We spent this Thanksgiving in the Ozarks with my brother and his wife.  We had spent the previous month touring the Ozarks on an Airstream Caravan but saw all new things.  Spent time at Johnny Morris’ Top of the Rock which was interesting.  We had a phenomenal T-giving dinner prepared by my sister-in- law.  

You Learn Something every Day

While preparing a lecture about B and W photography I came across the suggestion for Digital shooters to shoot RAW + jpg.  Set your creative or scene settings to B & W.  This way you get your color image in RAW but a jpg that is B & W to see how it would look like in black and white.  I tried and it was nice.  The photo above was the jpg that was tweaked.

Master Photography Printers

Interesting YouTube about those that still print.  I object to the first part of the video where they imply that if you’re not in NYC you’re no where.  They clearly focused on photographers who are New York -centric.  So much great photography is being done in all parts of the world that this concept of “you have to be in NYC” is really outdated.  The rest of the video is quite nice.

CAFE.org is not for me anymore

CAFE.org is the website for “Call For Entry” where art exhibitions are announced.  You usually pay a fee like $35 for 3 images.  All the entries are then screened and a few are selected to send in the actual work for display and final judging.  I’ve used them for several years now and have had some success in getting selected to show my photography.  What I object to is that most entries are not selected and so we the ‘rejected’ do much of the heavy lifting financially.  So for now I’m abstaining from anymore entries.  If it were up to me I’d charge a very minimal fee of $5 to enter and if you are selected you would be required to pay an additional fee which would have to be more than $35 for example - maybe $65 to $85.

Photobooks at my Feet

I’ve been gone for about a month and during that time I got in the mail two photo books ( yes I know I promised no more photo books but these are special to me). The first one should be interesting called “Diane Arbus - Documents” as it encompasses written work by and to Diane Arbus - review later.  The second gets the record of the heaviest book I own.  ” William Eggleston - Chromes”

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