From the Archives
(August 2005) Diane Arbus was a fashion photographer for twenty-some-odd years. Then, in the late 1950s, she turned away from models and began photographing freaks (her term)—transvestites, midgets, Down syndrome patients, carnies, and whoever else fit her category on any given day. What made her turn away from conventional beauty, change her lens? And what made her ingest barbiturates and slit her own wrists twenty years later?
People in New Hampshire once flocked to see a series of granite ledges that jutted out of a mountain to form an old man’s face and, eventually, “Old Man of the Mountain” came to symbolize their state. The granite man collapsed without warning one day though, and New Hampshire was left with a symbol that no longer reflected its reality.
So what do you do when the symbols that represent your core way of being in the world collapse, when you no longer see yourself through your familiar lens? It seems folly to attempt to reconstruct yourself in your former shape, but freefalling into an unfamiliar void is no picnic either. And it’s no easy job to believe that you will experience salvation in some as-yet-to-be-revealed form.
Maybe Diane Arbus looked at the last fashion model she would ever photograph one day and realized that she had reached the point of no return. And she put down her camera, took a deep breath, and took a leap of faith, trusting that she would be okay.
Maybe she knew that she would collapse altogether otherwise.
And maybe changing her lens turned out to be the salvation that sustained her for another twenty years.
And maybe, when she went into freefall in 1971, she believed that she would once again find herself on a new plane.
And maybe she did.
Well, that’s faith, isn’t it? Because, let’s face it, all those I Can’t Wait to See Jezus songs combined won’t alter the fact that, when you lose yourself, you just don’t know what new symbols might coalesce into your new self.
And no one can tell us with certainty what will happen when we die, scare us though they try.
Bush recently said, of global warming, “we’ll get used to it.” But I do not intend to watch the fish die because I might get used to a different ecosystem.
Still, I do believe that sitting still during times of great change and just absorbing the changes until we can get used to it and breathe again is the trick to surviving collapsing worlds and symbols and relationships (but definitely not democracies).
Change is the only constant, right?
LISTENING TO: unfortunately, a prof said “hey, remember this?” and then played “Everybody Was Kung-Fu Fighting (those kicks were fast as lightning)" so now (damn it) this song is stuck in my head.
SINGING IN SHOWER: That round about being by the wah-ah-ters, the wah-ah-ters of Babylon
BEST OF SPAM: Esperanza Hendrix (she speaks the universal language while mouthing her guitar strings?)