AD4803 Street Photography Artist Research – Diane Arbus

For this module, we have to shoot in the street. I have chosen to document the people of Cardiff as I feel that I can document the patriotic side of Welsh people by visiting the city on key dates. I want to improve on my portraiture work and use of flash, so I have decided to try and shoot street portraits using fill in flash. In order to be successful at this, I am researching artists who focus on portraiture both with and without flash. This should help to narrow down my project idea and make it more specific.

Diane Arbus

Street Photography Lessons

Diane Arbus photos

Diane Arbus’ street photography showed the weird and wonderful people she encountered through intimate, black and white portraiture. One of her most famous images was taken in Central Park (1962). This image was likely to have been taken with a TLR Rolleiflex 6×6 camera as this was the camera she used for a large body of work. As well as this, the shape of the image (being square) shows the medium format style and indicates her camera choice.

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I like the style of portraiture in this image. The subject’s whole body fitting in the square frame balances the picture. I also think that the pattern on the child’s shirt somewhat matches the shadows being formed in the background. The boy being separated from the background suggests that external flash was used to increase contrast. This image appears that it was taken from a slightly higher angle. This is probably because of the natural height difference between the child and Arbus. However, she could have dropped down had she wanted to be on the same level. This indicates that maybe she wanted to suggest that the boy is lower down in society; particularly if he is looked at as being a freak. The boy posed for over 6 images, most of which he had his hands on his hips and was smiling. I think Arbus chose this image of the 6 because he looked most unique and possibly troubled. This enabled the image to fit in with other work she had done on unique people in New York.

“Freaks was a thing I photographed a lot. It was one of the first things I photographed and it had a terrific kind of excitement for me. I just used to adore them. I still adore some of them, I don’t quite mean they’re my best friends but they made me feel a mixture of shame and awe.”

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 The above image was taken from a lower angle. This emphasises the height of the subject in comparison to Arbus who was known for being petite. The low angle makes the subject seem enormous, and intimidating to the audience. The tattoos he is sporting make him seem more scary for an audience. His eyes stand out in the image as they are one of the brightest parts. This forces the audience to look into his eyes, which makes him seem like a powerful figure. Similarly to the first image, he seems like a ‘freak’. The image was taken from a series of photographs Arbus took at a circus where she documented extraordinary performers including dwarfs and sword swallowers. It seems that a high aperture was used in this image as the background and bottom of the image are darker than the rest of it. This also suggests that a flash was used, which would explain why his eyes are considerably brighter than his body. The hot spots on his face also suggest use of flash. I like this effect of high aperture and flash, however I personally prefer Arbus’ full length portraiture as I feel like the audience gets to see the whole person being photographed. Having said that, I think this closer up use of portraiture makes the image seem more intimate, and I think it works well for this subject as it makes him seem more weird and intimidating.

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“If I were just curious, it would be very hard to say to someone, ‘I want to come to your house and have you talk to me and tell me the story of your life,'” she once explained. “I mean people are going to say, ‘You’re crazy.’ Plus they’re going to keep mighty guarded. But the camera is a kind of license. A lot of people, they want to be paid that much attention and that’s a reasonable kind of attention to be paid.” 

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When I shoot street portraits in Cardiff,  I intend on shooting people on their own primarily. But in order to show more diversity and excitement, I think that group portraits may work. I will only take group portraits if I feel that all subjects have an interesting factor about them. Whether that be their face, make up, clothing or stature etc.

I chose this image by Arbus because I liked the framing of it. I think the positioning of the subjects within the frame works well as the background acts as a border. I think the image is well balanced as there is an even number of people and the background is almost split in half with grass and sky. I think a relatively high aperture has been used for this as the background it out of focus. It is difficult to tell if this image was taken using flash or natural lighting, especially because it appears to be an overcast day which would make the lighting very bright and white. I like that the photograph was taken on the same level as the subjects as it suggests a level of equality with the subjects and the audience.

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