On Photography 9.0分
读书笔记 America, Seen Through Photographs, Darkly

p. 1

As Walt Whitman gazed down the democratic vistas of culture, he tried to see beyond the difference between beauty and ugliness, importance and triviality. ...... All facts, even mean ones, are incandescent in Whitman's America - that ideal space, made real by history, where "as they emit themselves facts are showered with light".


In photography's early decades, photographs were expected to be idealized images.

Walker Evans p. 14

Even without the heroic inflection, Evans's project still descends from Whitman's: the leveling of discriminations between the beautiful and the ugly, the important and the trivial. Each thing or person photographed becomes - a photograph; and becomes, therefore, morally equivalent to any other of his photographs. ...... Evans wanted his photographs to be "literate, authoritative, transcendent".

Edward Steichen p. 25

The last sigh of the Whitmanesque erotic embrace of the nation, but universalized and stripped of all demands, was heard in the "Family of Man" exhibit organized in 1955 by Edward Steichen.

Five hundred and three photographers from sixty-eight countries were supposed to converge - to prove that humanity is "one" and that human beings, for all their flaws and villainies, are attractive creatures. The people in the photographs were of all races, ages, classes, physical types. ...... As Whitman urged the readers of his poems to identify with him and with America, Steichen set up the show to make is possible for each viewer to identify with a great many of the people depicted and, potentially, with the subject of every photograph: citizens of World Photography all.

Diane Arbus p. 26

Arbus's work does not invite viewers to identify with the pariahs and miserable-looking people she photographed. Humanity is not "one".
Steichen's choice of photographs assumes a human condition or a human nature shared by everybody. By purporting to show that individuals are born, work, laugh, and die everywhere in the same way, "The Family of Man" denies the determining weight of history - of genuine and historically embedded differences, injustices, and conflicts. Arbus's photographs undercut politics just as decisively, by suggesting a world in which everybody is an alien, hopelessly isolated, immobilized in mechanical, crippled identities and relationships. The pious uplift of Steichen's photograph anthology and the cool dejection of the Arbus retrospective both render history and politics irrelevant. One does so by universalizing the human condition, into joy; the other by atomizing it, into horror.

p. 27

Arbus took photographs to show something simpler - that there is another world.

The camera has the power to catch so-called normal people in such a way as to make them look abnormal. The photographer chooses oddity, chase it, frame it, develops it, titles it.
"You see someone on the street, " Arbus wrote, "and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw."

P. 28

Anybody Arbus photographed was a freak

The subject of Arbus's photographs is, to borrow the stately Hegelian label, "the unhappy consciousness"

P. 31-32

Arbus was not a poet delving into her entrails to relate her own pain but a photographer venturing out into the world to collect images that are painful. And for pain sought rather than just felt, there may be a less than obvious explanation. According to Reich, the masochist's taste for pain does not spring from a love of pain but from the hope of procuring, by means of pain, a strong sensation; those handicapped by emotional or sensory analgesia only prefer pain to not feeling anything at all. But there is another explanation of why people seek pain, diametrically opposed to Reich's, that also seems pertinent: that they seek it not to feel more but to feel less.


Arbus's work is a good instance of a leading tendency of high art in capitalist countries: to suppress, or at least reduce, moral and sensory queasiness. Much of modern art is devoted to lowering the threshold of what is terrible. ...... The gradual suppression of queasiness does bring us closer to a rather formal truth - that of the arbitrariness of the taboos constructed by art and morals. ...... In the long run, it works out not as a liberation of but as a subtraction of the self: a pseudo-familarity with the horrible reinforces alienation, making one less able to react in real life.


"Photography was a license to go wherever I wanted and to do what I wanted to do," Arbus wrote. The camera is a kind of passport that annihilates moral boundaries and social inhibitions, freeing the photographer from any responsibility toward to people photographed. The whole point of photographing people is that you are not intervening their lives, only visiting them. The photographer is supertourist, an extension of the anthropologist, visiting natives and bringing back news of their exotic doings and stranger gear.

P. 37

"I would never choose a subject for what it meant to me when I think of it," Arbus wrote,

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