Two years ago when we were in Paris we had the good fortune to discover the Musee d’Orsay closed. What’s that I say? In fact it was to have reopened that very day, after recent renovations, had it not been for an industrial dispute that kept it closed. Of course, initially, we (especially I) were disappointed. Late works by the Impressionist artist Manet are a favourite of mine but difficult to find except in this museum which has a large collection of Impressionist art. And I was on a Manet jag at that point in time. There was nothing to do, but resort to our ‘plan B’.
‘Plan B’ took us to the Jeu de Paume museum which specialises in photographic exhibitions. The weather was unseasonably warm and the queue was unexpectedly long. Neither of us had heard of the photographer whose exhibition had recently opened, but it was our last day in Paris and we had done most of the things in the city area that we had intended to do so we decided to take a chance that the long queue was a good indication of what lay inside.
The photographer’s name was Diane Arbus. Like many artists she diligently worked at her art form, but fell into the subject matter accidently. She became intensely dedicated to photographing those in our society who dwell on the ‘fringes’. Her own tragic demise, suicide, probably to escape the debilitation of a fatal illness, ended a career that shed light on part of our society in a way little else has done.
When I read the following stunning quotation of hers, it changed forever my view of photography.
They (photographs) are the proof that something was there and no longer is. Like a stain. And the stillness of them is boggling. You can turn away but when you come back, they’ll still be there, looking at you.
–Diane Arbus -response when asked for a brief statement about photographs, March, 1971
Next time, we’ll just make ‘plan B’ our first choice!
(if you select the above link, you will find a portfolio of some of Diane’s work, and very, very teeny tiny at the middle bottom are the forward and backward arrows so you can view it)