Stranger (symbols)

Discussion in 'Philosophy' started by Julie H, Jul 29, 2017.

  1. Thinking a bit more about the notion of being a stranger to oneself, I would offer many of the self-portraits of Francesca Woodman, for example:
    I'm trying my hand at fashion photography
  2. Considering actors, it's not just we, the audience, who want them to be "stranger."* They have elected a life, a big part of which is becoming a stranger in adopting the role of a character. Of course, they learn to both be that stranger and make that stranger familiar. And the best among them utilize their authentic selves to become their characters. In wanting them to be "stranger" we may actually also be wanting them to be themselves. Selves are not one-dimensional and not only hidden inner beings. Selves manifest in the roles we adopt and the lives we choose. If Judy Garland and Clark Gable are stars, why would seeing them as such be seeing them as a stranger? It's just as real as shooting Casals with his cello or a local teacher in her classroom.

    *The concept of "stranger," while interesting, is not a good context in which to see all human interaction or photographic relationship. "Stranger" may have limited usage and application and not every relationship of photographic note benefits from being seen in that context.
  3. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    Barry, what makes you think Arbus connected with her subjects. Other than the photos is there evidence she connected, ie did she write about them somewhere, correspond with them, interview them?
  4. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    The reason i ask is because of what Phil said about Arbus' photos being 'self portraits' due to her state of mind.
  5. According to the two books I've read about Arbus one being the un-official, un-sanctioned biography and the other being the awesome large tome put out by her daughter, that Arbus herself talked extensively about her relations with many of her subjects. Arbus talked about the frustration of the lack of connection she was able to generate with the patients at the sanitarium she photographed at. It seems to me it was quite well known.

    That doesn't negate what Phil was talking about though. She's a fascinating person, you should read the some of the great books exploring her life.
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2017
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  6. What I've read about Diane Arbus is, indeed, interesting. The photos, exhibits, and books of imagery I've seen are even more so. Whether she connected with her subjects is less important to me than what I see in her photos, which I wouldn't describe as connection, and I think that's why she was so special and also why so many people had a problem with her work. I see fascination. And I think there are positive and negative sides to fascination, and I accept that and think it makes her work all the more important and all the more deep.
    ". . . as if he were an object." That's what I see in her work. A lot of objectification. Brilliant, honest objectification. Whether and how she connected to her subjects, I think her photos show a very unusual kind of distance. A kind of intentionally close distance. I think her camera confronts her subjects and I think she was unflinching in doing that. That's what I find so challenging and rewarding about her work and what I suspect puts many people off about her work.
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  7. Norman 202

    Norman 202 i am the light

    Fred, don't you think that lack of connection and the objectification of her subjects leaves her open to being accused of exploitation?
  8. Actually, she was accused of exploitation. But when you read about her, regardless if it was or wasn't exploitive, and she certainly had an agenda for her photos, there isn't about a lack of connection, though, we may be mis-using that word. You will see that a big part of her projects was basically "seducing" subjects to let her take their picture. She used to talk to people she was wanting to photograph and ask them to take her home with them, or to "tell her a secret". Its easy to say, and may well be true that she wasn't really interested in that word, "connecting" with her subjects. But she did want to learn something of them and I believe she certainly wanted them to feel they knew her enough to drop their "mask", i.e. that front in their mind they want to present to the world. She was known to be almost vicious and un-mercifil with the camera and how she got people to let her take pictures. Read Warhol's starlets Viva's comments or Germain Greer's comments about a photo session with Diane Arbus.
    But for instance, for the circus freaks she photographed, she certainly got to know many of them very well over a period of time. Some of that, I would speculate, was just to gain entry to that world so she could find subjects to photograph. But still, these were people she knew and fairly well indeed. Whether that informs her photography? I think it must to some degree. her approach was unique and her photos are unique.
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2017
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  9. Yes, it does leave her open and she has been accused of it. I think part of the challenge of her work is dealing with that. I see it as objectification but not exploitation. Exploitation, to me, would mean her deriving some sort of personal or emotional benefit off of the objectification. For instance, I think a lot of photos of homeless people (NOT ALL) are exploitive because they not only objectify other humans but the photos pray upon an emotional pathos that will be derived with very little emotional involvement put into the endeavor. A lot of the stuff I'm talking about comes across as shooting fish in a barrel. I think Arbus's photos show dedication (the opposite of shooting fish in a barrel) without necessarily showing connection. I think because they don't derive that kind of emotional pathos and don't seem to be attempting to derive that kind of emotional pathos they don't, to me, come across as exploitive. She doesn't seem to be looking for either a sympathetic or an empathetic reaction. That's what I mean by fascination. Kind of a more neutral sense of wonder and interest, a kind of irresistible attention without pointing toward a result or resolution.


    Barry, I read you as talking about what you know of her and her methods and not what you see in her photos. Your last post is all about her getting to know her subjects and what you've read about her relating to the people she shot and not about what you're seeing in the photos themselves. When I talk of disconnection, I'm talking about what I see in her photos, despite what I may know of how she worked. I'm not saying you should see her photos as I do and I'm not even sure how you see her photos. It's just that you haven't actually talked about them. Do you see the connection in the photos themselves? Isn't it possible she connected with these people but either chose to or just unconsciously managed to shoot them without portraying or wanting to portray or even being able to portray that connection?
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  10. “If you scrutinize reality closely enough, if in some way you really, really get to it, it becomes fantastic.” ― Diane Arbus
    “The camera is cruel, so I try to be as good as I can to make things even.” – Diane Arbus

    There are an awful lot of people in the world and it's going to be terribly hard to photograph all of them... It was my teacher Lisette Model who finally made it clear to me that the more specific you are, the more general it will be. - Diane Arbus

    I think her photographs reflect her intense fascination for the subjects.her curiosity, her passion to confront her own fears and explore things she hadn't seen before. Her exploitation, if that's what people wanted to call it, was using her personality to gain entrance to people's lives and then exploit the relationships for her own professional gain by displaying the photos. But in a way, every documentary photographer does that to some extent. But no, I don't think her photos are based on pity or even empathy. In fact, I beleve she didn't really think actual empathy was possible to some extent when she claimed it was impossible to get under another's skin and that experiencing one's own trauma doesn't necessarily allow you to understand another's.
  11. ...........
    I think that what she was doing was kind of the inverse of what Phil asked me about earlier in this thread:

    I think Arbus was starting with the given "look like" and finding the "book": finding the story of her subjects by falling into their story. Being there. Letting the teeth of their ongoing life/place gear into hers.

    In that sense, as Phil also pointed out, her pictures are self-portraits.
  12. In each of us there is another whom we do not know - Carl Jung

    We often wonder about the intentions and motivations of this or that artist but seldom scrutinize our own artistic output in the same way and take it for granted because it came from ourselves, but which we can only assume to know if it's without any deeper reflection. Perhaps it's more comfortable to reflect on the work of others...

    Jung saw the drawings, paintings, and sculptures that he made to have come directly from his unconscious. He was careful (and conflicted) not to view them as art because he believed that such a designation would diminish their psychoanalytical meaning and investigation into Jung's own psyche which had to do more with the concept behind the image than with the image-as-art itself. Still, we can also approach our own art or photography this way, there might be much more to it than the meaning we have already assigned to it.

    Last edited: Aug 11, 2017
  13. ..............
    The issue I see with what Jung found, and, as I said in the OP, is that in making a photograph (as opposed to a painting or drawing), you are in an photo-interaction and you wait until it "makes sense." It's very unusual for someone to see themselves (photographically) as they are not, to see themselves as 'stranger.' It's kind of like trying to see the back of your head: you know it's there, but you can't see it (directly). When photographing somebody else, I think you know the game, and how to play it, as does everybody else. If somebody is not playing, if they are 'stranger,' then I think that most photographers will wait and watch until the person "makes sense" i.e. is not strange.


    Avedon tells a story of going to photograph the, by then completely blind, Jorge Luis Borges and being unable to make a good picture:

    "The first time I saw him in light, it was my light. I was overwhelmed with feeling and I started to photograph. But the photographs turned out to be emptier than I had hoped. I thought I had somehow been overwhelmed that I had brought nothing of myself to the portrait."

    "... In some way, it seemed that Borges had no visitors. People who came from the outside could exist for him only if they were made part of his familiar inner world, the world of poets and ancients who were already his true companions. The people in that world knew more, argued better, had more to tell him. The performance permitted no interchange. He had taken his own portrait long before, and I could only photograph that."​

    By contrast, he also describes photographing the painter Frances Bacon. That went perfectly. I'll skip the story and just give one sentence from Avedon:

    "Without my saying a word, he understood what my portrait was about, what it called for from him, and he still remained true to himself."​

    Note that Avedon says, "what my portrait was about."
  14. It ultimately comes down not to the photographed subject but to the subject that is the photograph and from what must ensue in the dialogue that takes place between the creator of the work and the work being created (Avedon's prints are notorious in terms of their many subtle manipulations of dodging and burning). No artist will deliver or present a work as "finished" when it doesn't make sense to them on some deeper level, whether or not the work and its subject can be described as normal or as strange.
  15. ..........

    That would be why Jung did not claim his things were art?

    I thought you were in favor of ambiguity in your pictures. Does ambiguity "make sense"?
  16. I said when it doesn't make sense to them on a deeper level. Yes, ambiguity can make sense. Think of it as a cartographer making a map of yet to be explored territory.
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  17. ..........
    Would you agree with:

    "... if he is an artist who collides and contends immediately with the raw cognitive-ethical element of a lived life, with the chaos of a lived life (element and chaos from the aesthetic standpoint), ... it is only this collision that ignites the purely artistic spark." — M.M. Bakhtin

    ... and if so, you would not photograph the moment, the state of, the feeling of that collision but would rather wait until you could "map" that territory?

    [I think most photographers do wait (and thus no 'stranger'), but you have said that "no artist" would do so.]
  18. Ever since we gained a spark of consciousness our whole objective seems to have been/be to make sense of it all. That we haven't quite managed to make sense of it all doesn't negate this being the primary driving force behind art, religion, politics, life. The artistic spark Bakhtin mentions and ambiguous as it may be is the spark that wants to make sense of it all, no matter what. We don't go to museums because we hope that the art inside will not make sense to us. Artists don't make art because they're hoping their art will not make sense to them and to their public.
    Last edited: Aug 12, 2017

  19. Did I say that? I think not.

    I think it is the spectators, including the artist who made the thing, that enjoy "making sense" out of it, as a finished work. But that's not who or what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the shooter, in the act of seeing. The artist in the collision.

  20. I think just the opposite is often true. I don't think Beethoven's final piano sonatas made much "sense" to him at all. Many passages show madness, not sense. And I don't think they would have made more sense to him than to his listeners. These pieces are quite baffling. Listen to them after listening to those of his early or middle period. They're on a different plane. Had they made sense, they would lack the intense personal outcrying quality they have, IMO. The same can be said for lots of art.
    All you're doing here is changing the definition of "sense" to suit what you want to say. Finding another word would work better. Why use the word "sense" to begin with? Taking it to this deeper level seems to take it out of the realm of sense, so it's not sense anymore. I think emphasizing "sense," at whatever level, is not a great place to go in talking about artists' relationships to their art.

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