Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘photography’

30 AUGUST, 2011

An Emergency in Slow Motion: A “Psychobiography” of Diane Arbus

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From dwarfs to giants, or what therapy has to do with the pinnacle of postmodern photography.

Iconic photographer Diane Arbus is as known for her stunning, stark black-and-white square photographs of fringe characters — dwarfs, giants, nudists, nuns, transvestites — as she is for her troubled life and its untimely end with suicide at the age of 48. Barely a year after her death, Arbus became the first American photographer represented at the prestigious Venice Biennale. In the highly anticipated biography An Emergency in Slow Motion: The Inner Life of Diane Arbus, psychologist Todd Schultz offers an ambitious “psychobiography” of the misunderstood photographer, probing the darkness of the artist’s mind in an effort to shed new light on her art. Shultz not only got unprecedented access to Arbus’s therapist, but also closely examined some recently released, previously unpublished work and writings by Arbus and, in the process, fought an uphill battle with her estate who, as he puts it, “seem to have this idea that any attempt to interpret the art diminishes the art.”

Schultz explores the mystery of Arbus’s unsettled existence through five key areas of inquiry — her childhood, her penchant for the marginalized, her sexuality, her time in therapy, and her suicide — underpinned by a thoughtful larger narrative about secrets and sex. Ultimately, Schultz’s feat is in exposing the two-sided mirror of Arbus’s lens to reveal how the discomfort her photographs of “freaks” elicited in the viewer was a reflection of her own unease and self-perception as a hopeless outcast.

Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967

Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, New York City, 1962

Eddie Carmel, Jewish Giant, taken at Home with His Parents in the Bronx, NY, 1970

Poignant and provocative, An Emergency in Slow Motion: The Inner Life of Diane Arbus offers an entirely new way of relating to and understanding one of the most revered and influential postmodern photographers, in the process raising timeless and universal questions about otherness, the human condition, and the quest for making peace with the self.

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24 AUGUST, 2011

Andrew Zuckerman: Curiosity and Rigor are the Secret to Creativity

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Getting past the myth of “inspiration,” or why the fear of failure might be a good thing.

I’m a longtime fan of photographer Andrew Zuckerman‘s work, especially his brilliant Wisdom project. In this excellent talk from The 99 Percent, Andrew shares insights on creativity and getting projects done, touching on everything from where ideas come from to the fear of failure. The part that resonates with me most deeply is the incredible importance he attributes to curiosity in the creative process, something I too firmly believe and have spoken about myself.

What gets projects done for me is not inspiration. I have no idea what inspiration really is. I know that I get really curious about things, and when that gets mixed with rigor, a project gets completed. And that’s basically it, it’s that simple. When curiosity and rigor get together, something happens. And when one of these things [isn't] there, nothing happens, or the project doesn’t really reach people.” ~ Andrew Zuckerman

Here’s the trailer for Wisdom:

Zuckerman’s latest project, Music, is just as much of a treat, featuring beautifully shot, deeply moving interviews with 50 of the greatest living music icons:

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12 AUGUST, 2011

On Loving Animals: A Visual Study of Affection and Its Extremes

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What in-bred pugs and retired show cats have to do with the human capacity for selflessness and solipsism.

A few weeks ago, we contemplated the secret emotional lives of animals in the wild, but what about the emotional lives of domesticated animals and their human companions? Whether or not those frequent humorous allegations of physical resemblance between pets and their owners are true, one thing is certain — there’s undeniable emotional synchronicity between human and animal that comes with owning and loving a pet. That’s exactly what Dutch photographer Isabella Rozendaal explores in On Loving Animals — a visual chronicle of what Rozendaal calls “the Dutch and their obsessive, sentimental and sometimes inconsiderate love of animals.” From retired show animals to post-op cats to long-haired dogs with braids and barrettes, these portraits are sometimes tender, sometimes traumatic, and always unabashedly intimate, capturing the rich nuances of what it means to share a life with another being.

[The project's] aim is to show how the animals are part of our lives, and how we project our own needs onto these beasts.” ~ Isabella Rozendaal

Many of the photographs capture the tragicomic disconnect between the owner’s intention and the pet’s felt experience, as in the case of this clearly not bemused retriever undergoing a doggie spa treatment:

Or the more systemic issues of humans projecting their superficial preferences on nature, as with pugs — dogs once bred to resemble adorable puppies, a “design” that has resulted in troubled breathing due to their compact snouts (which is why you often hear pugs snort), in addition to a host of other health issues stemming from inbreeding.

Visually simple and conceptually rich, the project is as much a voyeuristic tour of other people’s lives as it is a reflection on universal human needs and fault lines on the edges of love and its mutations.

But, ultimately, On Loving Animals is more a portrait of human psychology, with all its capacity for selflessness and propensity for solipsism, spanning the full spectrum of affection and its obsessive extremes.

Images courtesy of Isabella Rozendaal

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