Your Diane Arbus Moment: A Very Pretty LadyBy John Calendo / Friday, May 5th, 2006
There is an unmistakable grandeur to this photo and we are not sure at first if — but, of course, it is – a man.
It is titled Barcelona, most likely because that was the name this arresting creature went by. Certainly the photographer, Christer Stromholm, was associated with the sleazy-chic lowlights of Paris, circa 1960, and Madame Barcelona may have been one of the twilight demimondes on parade.
How she does gaze at us! The world-weary hauteur of it.
And while this picture certainly speaks one thousand — if not one million — words, Ian Jeffrey, the gifted blurb writer for The Photo Book, where it appears, manged to add a few devastating words of his own:
The man’s hair, parted on the left, still has a masculine look, but it is his female gaze which counts. He poses as a woman who has had long experience of her own beauty and strangeness. She looks as though she has met you before or many like you, and marked your response well enough to prepare this Mona Lisa face and a gaze both self-possessed and sad.
With nothing to go on but the encounter itself, no contextual details in which to take refuge, you are left with the moment … and an exchange of glances.
This is the power of photography. This is the power of analytic writing. Madame Barcelona, we think, is the perfect hostess to inaugurate our new Nightcharm category, Your Diane Arbus Moment.
Diane who? Photographer Diane Arbus remains one of the most compelling and influential artists of the postmodern era — though she has been dead since 1970. Her work captured that moment when the social mask slips, when we see the yawning gap between what is and what can never be.
Her subjects were — famously — the drag queen with the five-o-clock shadow, the tinselly Christmas tree in the plastic-covered living room, the little boy in short pants, with the strained, neck-ropy grimace as he clutches a toy grenade. A selection of Arbus photos, rarely found on the web as her daughter is fierce about copyright protection, can nevertheless be found at this Japanese site — though for how long, we can not say. Be aware there is a long load time.
Welcome to the dark side.
The famous Aperture monograph on Diane Arbus
is still available at Amazon.
Of her work, Walker Evans — himself a historic
master of photography — said, “She has an eye
cultivated to show you fear in a handful of dust.”
©2013 Nightcharm, Inc.; All Rights Reserved.