Diane Arbus

Text and Photography by Harvey Lloyd
This blog is from series entitled Secrets of Eternal Youth
artist/photographer Ivana Lovincic.
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Diane Arbus
    I knew Diane Arbus briefly when I managed legendary Art Director and Designer Alexey Brodovitch’s Design Laboratory workshops in the forties of the last century. The workshops were held in her friend fashion photographer Richard Avedon’s smaller studio above his large one in Manhattan.
    Diane attended the workshops as a guest to watch or talk to us on occasion. She, of course, was on a mad path to self destruction, and sadly could not photograph anything besides the dark or freak side of humanity. I have photographed people in a hundred countries around the world on my million and a half miles journeys and assignments.  My own belief and practice has always been to try to reveal the dignity of the human race with kindness, love and humility.
    An artist is free to do what they please even if the consequences are harmful to their subjects and themselves. I despise what Arbus did nonetheless, and her gradually deranged mind may have been behind the angry, disrespectful images. That said, she became an icon to a whole generation of young photographers who went out with the cameras and no love or respect for their fellow humans.
    I knew her and I knew Richard Avedon. Richard came under her influence and made several picture books that spat on human dignity and made caricatures of human beings. Brodovitch, who discovered Avedon and helped get him over his sexual difficulties, would not have liked what Avedon did. The famous fashion photographer got even with the “immoral” high fashion world that he revolutionized with his portraits.
    I was very close to the genius Brodovitch during his last dozen years in his beloved city of New York. I managed not only his Design Laboratory Workshops, but his personal life The Workshops were his only source of income after leaving his twenty five years of art directing Harper’s Bazaar and making it famous and rich. He was ruthless in his pursuit of art and the future of art, and uncompromising. He was not, from my personal experience ever cruel or disrespectful. He was a gentleman. I do not think he would have liked Avedon’s angry portraits.
    Avedon’s picture book In the American West was greatly influenced by Arbus. He photographed the people in every walk of life in ways that demeaned them, that showed disrespect if not hatred, the way Arbus might have done it. During a documentary video of Avedon’s vist to the subject of his book after it was published he me a young lady who was covered with freckles. She told him her portrait had ruined her life; she was now “The Freckle Lady,” mocked and ridiculed. She said that she felt he should not have made that portrait.

    Avedon’s reply as I remember was that as an artist he had no obligation to his subjects and that his interpretation of who and what they were belonged to him. He made it clear the photographs were his property and his subject had no rights of any kind. I was shocked at the meanness and the disrespect shown for the young lady. Somewhere in the shadows, Arbus, long gone from the earth, must have nodded yes to his speech.
   As an iconolastic rebellious artist with a camera, I cannot attempt to tell any artist what is right and wrong and what they may do. That is censorship, even fascism. I can say that my own creed is respect for human  dignity and love. As Voltaire said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.” I will fight for Arbus’s freedom from censorship but I will not fight for the rights of a concentration camp guard. A strange juxtaposition, but we humans are strange creatures filled with love and hate, kindness, decency and too often their opposites at once.
    That Arbus was a mentally disturbed person who went from being a fashion photographer friend of Avedon’s to a descent into hell is a sad and tragic tale. That much of a generation of young people attempted to follow her there with their cameras speaks only of yin and yang of human nature. As we see in our own time, youth will be served at any price, and the pied piper leads the way to erewhon or Hades. As an artist, any artist, we must be aware of our ability to shine a light as Eleanor Roosevelt said, rather than curse the darkness.

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