Friday, January 23, 2009

Arty-Farty Friday ~ Diane Arbus

Not a painter this week, but a photographer.

Diane Arbus was born in New York on 14 March 1923. Time of birth not known, so in the chart below, set for 12 noon, the ascendant sign, and degree of Moon are not accurate, though Moon would remain in Aquarius whatever the time of birth.

Wealthy parents, classy education and artistic talent gave Diane Arbus the best possible start in life. At age 18 she married Allan Arbus, a fashion photographer, born 15 February 1918 - Aquarius Sun to match her Aquarius Moon. They had two daughters. Later, after their divorce he became an actor , and is still alive at the time of writing. She, after achieving success as a photographer in her own right, tragically commited suicide in 1971, aged 48.

Diane Arbus's best known work might give us a pointer to her personality. She made a name for herself with skilfully posed portraits of what she, and the press, called "freaks". I will not use that word again. I find it inaccurate and distasteful. She chose to photograph ordinary people who she saw as being different in some way from the norm - or from her own perception of the norm.

Commentary on her work, and through it her character, falls into two camps. There are critics who see her work as a kind of voyeurism, rather cruel and mean spirited, exploiting her subjects. So by extension they suppose that the photographer herself had a nature to match. The other camp saw her as an empathetic character, a tad naive, who was able to use her camera brilliantly and show her subjects in a way nobody else has ever matched.

She suffered from bouts of depression, one of which ended in her suicide. I'm not sure whether depression or suicidal tendencies have any astrological signature. I doubt there's any single signature. Background, circumstance and charts of others in the life of the subject will have a close bearing on individual situations. I have noticed that in the natal chart of another suicide victim, Sylvia Plath, there's an opposition between a personal planet and Chiron (the asteroid known as The Wounded Healer). There's an opposition in Diane Arbus's chart, from Saturn to Chiron. Coincidence, perhaps?

From her natal chart, I'd guess that Arbus was certainly empathetic. Pisces seldom displays itself as mean-spirited or cruel. Uranus is quite close to her natal Pisces Sun, however, which adds a touch of the unexpected to her personality. Uranus also forms part of a Grand Trine in Water, linking to Pluto and Jupiter bringing extra emphasis to an emotional nature, and a touch of darkness via Pluto.
Neptune, ruler of Pisces and planet of creativity (including photography) lay quincunx Uranus - an irritable aspect, and a generational one. As Uranus is part of that Grand Water Trine though, Neptune's scratchy aspect to it would ruffle the Water's calm surface.

Her well spread planets form several other chart patterns. This happens in many splash pattern charts, not all of them can be heavily significant. Among her configurations Arbus had a Grand Cross to contend with, offering a life of continuing challenge (possibly her depressive states) and a Yod with Uranus at its apex - emphasising again that rather unusual side to her personality, manifesting in her choice of photographic subjects. (Below: boy holding grenade.)
Aquarius Moon and Venus add innate intelligence, and reflect a quiet, somewhat detached side to her nature.

So which camp of critics was likely to be correct? On the scant information we have, and without a time of birth, I'd say the middle-way would be accurate. At times she must have seemed cold and uncaring of her subjects, displaying them so clearly and - it seems to us now, cruelly. Yet I doubt she saw it that way herself. She was a professional and objective in her work. She probably saw her subjects as people who deserved to be valued and given some attention.

In one light it seems like a cynical opportunistic enterprise to attract recognition for the photographer, but there had to be a lot of kindness in the way she was able to relate to her subjects. She tried to catch them looking straight into the camera - unafraid, daring viewers to sneer. I'd like to think they are saying, "This is me - I am just like you! "

Right: The type of camera Diane favored - TLR (twin-lens reflex)More photographs available via Google image or HERE.
More information at New York Times article: "Arbus Reconsidered"


anthonynorth said...

I can identify with this. A lot of my writing is on the extremes of human behaviour, 'cos within the extreme you can catch a better glimpse of the normal. Our ideosyncracies are more defined.

Wisewebwoman said...

I've always loved her work, T. She photographed the peripherals, the ones no one had paid attention to or thought deserving until then.
I did dislike the Kidman effort in "Fur" and feel Diane's life deserves a more interesting telling.

Twilight said...

AN ~~~ Hmmmm - not sure I'd go along with the thought that it's possible to glimpse the normal with the extreme, but I shall bow to your greater experience in these matters. that I don't mean that you are extreme in yourself - you always seem very level headed. :-)

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ I can't say I enjoy the photographs, but the photographer herself is an intriguing personality.

I haven't seen "Fur" - oh dear, not Ms Kidman....again! I'm becoming distinctly bored with her!

Anonymous said...


I used to see "The Twins" that Arbus made famous, all over SF, back in the late eighties. There was something sligthly creepy about them.

She really crossed over the line by dissolving into the inner landscape of her subject matter, so very Piscean.

Her husband, Alan Arbus, used to show up on MASH every so often as "Sidney" a visiting doctor.

I always liked the semi-weary gravitas and dry humor he added to the show.

MASH would do that every now and then, like throw Loudon Wainwright III (Rufus' dad) into the mix as well.

Twilight said...

Robert Phoenix ~~ Hi!
Yes, I almost posted her photograph of The Twins, but then changed my mind. I often think it's creepy to dress any twins in the same outfits - poor kids!

I didn't see many episodes of MASH in the UK, but they are repeated often here, I shall try to watch a few, and see if I can spot Arbus.

Semi-weary dry humor sounds a bit like Jack Benny too - he was born 14 February, Allan Arbus 15th.