Technique is overrated

We visited the Met Breuer (pronouced Broyer) museum today to see the Diane Arbus exhibit (pronounced dEEan.  She was particular about that), In the Beginning.   It is worth a trip to New York all by itself.

The Met Breuer is uptown, at 945 Madison.  It’s a small museum, dedicated to modern and contemporary art.  Because we have so often found excellent restaurants, we went at noon, only to be disappointed by what is essentially a coffee bar, and went across the street for a thoroughly pedestrian lunch.

Returning to the museum, we went straight to the Arbus exhibition and were promptly enthralled by a show of her early work, each photo placed on a separate column in random order–this is a show of beginnings, not a progression.


Met Breuer, 2nd floor. The admiring throngs for the exhibit Diane Arbus: In the Beginning.

I was enraptured.  Arbus is one of the great photographers, able to create imagery that seems to get at the very soul of her subjects, who she might just have seen on the street for an instant.  Many street shooters attempt to hide the fact that they are taking photos, even going to the extent of using a lens with a mirror attached at 45º so they weren’t facing the subject.  Arbus, in contravention of that aesthetic, clearly chose to actively engage with her subjects–many of them are looking directly into the lens, fully engaged with the photographer and the image.

I read photo books and blogs and magazines, and there is a huge cult of technique that is obsessed with the sharpest possible photos, taken on sturdy tripods and carefully focused to get the last tiny iota of perfection.  Arbus was not of this school in the least, and her work does not suffer for it.


Woman in a black with a pearl choker, NYC 1956

This photo is out of focus.   So what?  The moment is there, the emotion, the feeling.  A little better focus wouldn’t change the value of the image at all.


Elderly woman whispering to her dinner partner, Grand Opera Ball, NYC 1959

Poorly focused, blurred by a slow shutter, terribly grainy.  And a great picture.

OK, that’s my point.  The subject, and the photographers relation thereto, is more important that peeping into the tiny intricacies of perfect sharpness and definition.  Diane Arbus shows us the way.


Just for amusement, I noticed this picture.  Shot in Times Square, it shows a bible thumper working the crowd, with probably no more success than the sign carrier I posted last night. Plus ça change, plus ça meme chose.


Sometime you just have to take the picture.


And here’s the whole gang waiting for me to finish dawdling over the great photos.



We’re going to see An American in Paris tonight.  More to come.



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