Tag Archives: hilton als

Diane Arbus: Describing the Loneliness that Shames Us

Photographer Diane Arbus poses for a rare portrait in the Automat at Sixth Avenue between 41st & 42nd Street in New York, New York, circa 1968. (Photo by Roz Kelly/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

With the publication of two books and new gallery showings featuring photographer Diane Arbus, Hilton Als explores her work, writings, artistic motivation, and uncanny ability to capture on film the humanity of the “freaks” — the marginalized people — who were the subjects of her work. Read his piece at the New York Review of Books.

Arbus’s photographs were elegant, too—classically composed and cool—but they were on fire with what difference looked like and what it felt like as seen through the eyes of a straight Jewish girl whose power lay in her ability to be herself and not herself—different—all at once. The story she told with her camera was about shape-shifting: in order to understand difference one had to not only not dismiss it, but try to become it. “I don’t like to arrange things,” Arbus once said. “If I stand in front of something, instead of arranging it, I arrange myself.”

As Arbus went on, though, she became more and more interested in the drama of the self as it appeared not only to her through her lens (her magic portal) but to her subject. No visual artist of the twentieth century has described with more accuracy the enormous pride her characters, certainly in the early pictures, feel at having risked all to become themselves—selves they could not lock up, or hide, or resist being recorded despite the pain of being marginalized in their daily life.

Arbus made pictures that grew out of and described the loneliness we are all taught to be ashamed of and should try to “fix” through conventional connections—marriage, children, and so on.2 Arbus’s “I”—the eye behind her camera—was unabashed loneliness, looking to connect, if only because she understood what it felt like not to. She wanted to see the world whole, which meant seeing and accepting the fractures in those connections, too, along with all that could not be fixed. When she started taking pictures of drag queens and interracial couples, homosexuality was illegal, and miscegenation was still met with violence or derision.

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The 2017 Pulitzer Prize Winners

2017 Winner for Feature Photography. (E. Jason Wambsgans/Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images)

The winners of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize were announced today — on the 170th birthday of Joseph Pulitzer — and though there were some surprises, the majority of the honors were bestowed on some of the year’s most talked about pieces of writing. For example, Colson Whitehead won for his ground-breaking work of fiction, The Underground Railroad. And C.J. Chivers of the New York Times snagged a Pulitzer for his heart-breaking portrayal of a soldier grappling with his life stateside in “The Fighter.”

The entire list of the other Pulitzer recipients can be found here, but below is a compendium of some of the celebrated works. Read more…

‘The Artist’s Memory Is a Dangerous, Necessary Thing’

Memory is your greatest ally and your primary source material, because memory is your body as it was in the world and the world as it was and will be; memory is the people you have loved or wanted to love in the world, and what are we if not bodies filled with reminiscences about all those ghosts in the sunlight?

The artist’s memory is a dangerous, necessary thing. Never disavow what you see and remember—it’s your brilliant stock-in-trade: remembering, and making something out of it. Artists remember the world as it is, first, because you have to know what it is you’re reinventing; that’s a rule, perhaps the only one: being cognizant of your source material.

-Hilton Als, in a commencement speech for Columbia University’s School of the Arts, republished at the New York Review of Books.

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Photo: The New School, YouTube