Monday, January 28, 2008

Diane Arbus

Last weekend I saw the movie "Fur", starring Nicole Kidman. It is a fictional movie about the real photographer, Diane Arbus. Although a Kidman fan, I wasn't overly fussed with her work in this film, but Robert Downey Jr, who plays the fictional character "Lionel" in the film was very good, bringing a real depth
to his part. I confess that I had some difficulty getting my head around the concept that the film was about a real person, but the events and some of the characters depicted in the movie were made up.

The real Diane Arbus was a portrait photographer from New York, who, although coming from a fairly privileged background, chose largely to take pictures of the marginalised and unfortunate. The picture above, reproduced from Wikipedia, is one of her most famous images, "Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, New York City". It is interesting to read the Wikipedia article, which attributes the look on this boy's face to his frustration at Arbus's deliberate futzing around while taking the picture. My wife, The Patient One, can identify with that sort of frustration!

It is also instructive to look at the image. The subject is obvious, although there are other elements in the picture. The boy's face and hand gestures are really the core of the photo, and although the boy has posed for the photo, his real personality has come through to the viewer as a result of the photographer's skill. The DOF is sufficiently narrow to isolate the boy against the background of the tree and person behind him, which, as often happens in a candid moment,
are not placed ideally.

What we can learn from the image is that it is not sufficient just to pose a person for a portrait - the photographer has to be able to enable the viewer to see some aspect of the subject's character. I assume that Arbus didn't know the boy in this photo, and that makes it all the more remarkable that she was able to achieve this objective.

I love to look at the images made by other photographers. Just as artists study the works of famous painters, you can really develop your own skills by
taking critical note of photographic masters and their work .

More about Diane Arbus here.

EXIF: Image copyright Diane Arbus; courtesy Wikipedia.


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