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Thursday, 18 September 2014


Sorry to be a twit, but akimbo means hands on hips, not crossed in front.

Your closing comment rings true for me. I just cannot read "art books" of any stripe--outside the occasional catalogue raisonne--despite having shelves full of them.

Ultimately, my problem is that I despise speculation presented with authority. Facts and figures and technical minutiae and historical context are worth reading, but the moment someone begins speculating about the meaning of a work or the motivation of an artist, I stop reading. Unless the author was there and has inside knowledge, or is quoting people who were and do, they should shut the hell up and let the art do the talking.

I long for the day when art book publishers are brave enough to start publishing art books that have nothing but a just-the-facts-ma'am introduction followed by page after page of uncluttered, unguttered, respectfully margined, usefully captioned (i.e. title, date, medium, catalogue number) reproductions.

Your quote from the book illustrates why I rarely read any "psychobiograpy" books. How much of the "analysis" applies to Arbus, and how much is it the author's own psychological projection onto the image and the subject(Arbus)? Far too much of such literature is more descriptive of the author than the subject. However, if its a good read, and you don't take it too literally, read and enjoy.

Patricia Bosworth's biography of Arbus is more informative, but Mein Gott, what a name-dropper. No pictures in it, either.

A great artist bio can turn you into a major fan of the artist. Ever since I read Lawrence Weschler's "Seeing Is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees," about Los Angeles artist Robert Irwin, I've sought out Irwin's work whenever it's shown. I recommend the book.

Now excuse me while I go find a copy of Emergency in Slow Motion.

My rule of books I don't need to read but get bored with - skip bits and move forward - if I get interested again, I tend to go back and fill in the gaps. If I don't, then back on the shelf it goes.

"Ultimately, my problem is that I despise speculation presented with authority."

I couldn't agree more.

I actually like reading biography, but am suspect of any that have been written while the person was still alive, or shortly after. Too much spin to get at the truth, it's almost like you have to wait until just before the people that knew them best, die themselves, before the facts come out.

I'm totally interested in the paths peoples lives have taken, people who I really have an interest in their art, or production, or way of living. I think it's a huge disservice to publish anything about any artist that does not focus on how they were able to survive while creating, what paths they took to paying the bills. Perhaps the photo industry wouldn't be filled with so many disgruntled people if they realized a lot of their heros were trust-fund babies, or from ages-old wealthy families, or were bleeding (or supported by) a spouse to accomplish what they did. Bios that don't contain this info are worthless.

Art and photo students think their modern heros were producing work and people were throwing money at them, well, at least enough to live. Ha...

Her photos say more than any "psychobiograpy" book about her can. She was perfect in her imperfection.

You can view Arbus's body of work not only as a window into a troubled person's psyche, but also as a window into where photography was, at that particular moment in time- branching out, exploring its own possibilities in how it could relate to and communicate with the world at large, artistically and otherwise. It was testing new waters, and as with any growing child, sometimes may have taken certain parameters a bit too far- how any person or medium grows.

Arbus was a true pioneer in exploring various venues to degrees not taken before. They may sometimes seem somewhat less than ethical by today's standards, but thankfully, we have those very images, iconic as they are, to initiate and examine those very issues today.

Thanks for posting this.

Dear Mike,

I haven't read that book, but the passage exactly fits my impression of Arbus and her work, just from her photographs. Exploitive, nasty, laughing at. I quite detest it. She might be a masterful photographer, but my reaction is that'd be like saying some schoolyard bully is a masterful torturer. Not exactly praise.

pax / Ctein

pax / Ctein

Sorry to be a pedant, Chris, but the word is pedant, not twit (at least not in UK usage).

I like to read photographer biographies. I have bought all I could find in traditional book shops over the past twenty years. I have less than a dozen. I am really curious what those several dozen are on your shelf. Can you post a list when you have the time? This is not criticism or doubt, but genuine interest to see what I have missed and what I should be looking for. I have never ordered a book from Amazon. Maybe I have to take a look.

I have the Bosworth biography. Usually biographies have at least a few and usually a lot of pictures by the artist but that biography explains that they tried but did not get rights to use any Arbus pictures.

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