American art

Diane Arbus - Photographer of Oddity by Geoff Harrison

Ah, the exhibitions we just don't see in this country!  The Met in New York is staging an exhibition of the photography of Diane Arbus.

Born into a wealthy family, Arbus was fascinated by poverty and oddity.  “I love to go to people’s houses,” Diane Arbus once told a reporter, “exploring — doing daring things I’ve not done before.”   She was brilliant at school, sexually precocious and married young.  In the 1950's Arbus was shooting for a fashion magazine, a job she began to loathe - drawn as she was to the "flawed and unusual".

The Jewish Giant

The Jewish Giant

A biographer described Arbus as being adventurous, charismatic and always taking terrible risks.  Norman Mailer described giving Arbus a camera "was like putting a live grenade in the hands of a child.”

This image of identical twins so haunted Stanley Kubrick that he had to include something like it in his movie The Shining.

This image of identical twins so haunted Stanley Kubrick that he had to include something like it in his movie The Shining.

Some found her images ungainly, freakish even brutal but Arbus responded by saying these people wanted to have their photo taken - they liked being paid attention to.

Arbus had two daughters by her marriage, which ended in 1959.  In later years, ill health, loneliness and depression got the better of her, especially after her daughters left home. “My work doesn’t do it for me anymore,” she told a friend.  She committed suicide in 1971, aged 48.

When Less Is More And The Value Of Disappointment by Geoff Harrison

In an interview with "The American Reader", photographer Gregory Crewdson discusses his motivations and objectives.  His photos are often cinematic in scale and haunting - maybe even unnerving.  Crewdson has a very unique relationship with the figures in his work: "I don’t want to know them well. I don’t want to have any intimate contact with them. For all the talk of my pictures being narratives or that they’re about storytelling, there’s really very little actually happening in the pictures. One of the few things I always tell people in my pictures is that I want less—give me something less."  Thus his work is open to the widest interpretation, he is giving the viewer the opportunity to project their own narrative into the picture.

Later in the interview, Crewdson speaks of the inevitable disappointment of translating an image in his mind into the final product.  "Yes. I think that’s the nature of representation. No matter what it will disappoint, it will fail in some way.  But that’s also part of the magic of art. If every picture met my expectation in exactly the right way, there’d be no mystery; there’d be no gap between what’s in my head and the picture I make. So it’s necessary. But it sure disappoints you. It’s also what propels you to make the next one."

He argues this is the case for just about every visual or performing artist.  The desire to make something perfect, exactly right.



James Casebere by Geoff Harrison

The eerie imagery of the American photographer James Casebere.  In the 1990's Casebere constructed large models of buildings on a layout table and then inserted small light sources before photographing the results.  His work had quite an influence on me early in my career. There is an other worldliness to his work of this period which I admire.

Gregory Crewdson by Geoff Harrison

"These pictures are about creating a world.  I’ve always had these images inside my head that I want to get out into the world.  These towns are just a backdrop for a more submerged psychological drama.  It is really a projection from my own story where I have explored my own fears, anxieties and desires."   Gregory Crewdson

Crewdson was raised in New York City and his father was a psychoanalyst who practiced in the basement of the family home.  
What was going on there  was a complete mystery, Crewdson tried to eavesdrop on the sessions and hence the hidden psychology of his work.

Among other things he is credited with exploring lives of quiet desperation in towns abandoned by industry, although Crewdson denies there is a strong socioeconomic element to his work.

Andy Warhol by Geoff Harrison

He was pale, he suffered dyslexia, he had a skin condition that blotched in the sun, he was described as looking like something that crawled out from under a rock, he was gay (an issue then if not now), he was shy - as a primary school kid was he beaten up by a girl and spent weeks at home recovering from it psychologically.  He came from a working class immigrant Slovakian family and his father died when he was thirteen.

Yet at the time of his death, Andy Warhol had an estate estimated to be worth $600m.  So how did he do it?  It probably helped that shortly before his death his father set up a trust that got Andy through art school, but he was also talented and fiercely ambitious.

 As soon as he was old enough he left his native Pennsylvania for New York.  One of his associates said Warhol had a vivid sense of his own limitations and he knew that what he would achieve in life would be within these limitations.  So Warhol developed the persona of Andy the machine - deadpan Andy, and he exsponged all emotion out of his life (so it seemed).  I hated Andy Warhol at art school, but now I wished he was still alive and doing the things he did so well, especially early in his career - taking the piss out of this world and its obsession with wealth, celebrity, commercialism and violence.

Gregory Crewdson by Geoff Harrison

While there is plenty to admire in the beauty of Gregory Crewdson's photography, it is the deep underlying psychology of his work that impresses me.  Crewdson has said that he wants his work to be both beautiful and have an underlying anxiety, loneliness perhaps even fear.  It is interesting to hear him speak of his work and to note the absence of the usual conceptual, post modernist gobbledegook you hear from so many artists these days.  Perhaps it's because he knows his work stands on its own merits.