Documentary and Portraying the Body
Diane Arbus and Judy Dater
Two women photographers who stretched the bounds of art photography were Diane Arbus and Judy Dater. Diane Arbus (1923-1971) came from a wealthy family and at just thirteen she met Allen Arbus, who worked at her parents’ department store. Allen Arbus married Diane when she turned 18 and they worked as fashion photographers. Diane Arbus took on the role of style and art director while Allen Arbus was at the camera, but they both took credit for the work. Diane got her own camera in 1956 and she began to make her own pictures. By 1959 the couple had separated but they remained on good terms, with Allen always supportive of Diane’s work. In 1962 and 1966 she was awarded Guggenheim fellowships which allowed her to pursue her more unorthodox work. Her images took on a style where the subject is always looking directly into the camera; the background tends to be fairly minimal whether inside or outdoors and so that all attention is focused completely on the subject. The subjects she chose were people who were extraordinary, unusual looking or living on the margins of society. Susan Sontag writes in On Photography that Arbus’ images that;
“she seems to have enrolled in one of art photography’s most vigorous enterprises – concentrating on victims, on the unfortunate- but without the compassionate purpose that such a project is expected to serve. Her work shows people who are pathetic, pitiable, as well as repulsive, but does not arouse any compassionate feelings" (Sontag, S. 1979:33)
Arbus' work is often uncomfortable to look at, as it seems to exploit the subject with the object of making the viewer of the work collusive in looking at the final image. Arbus pushed the boundaries of portraiture and documentary photography and is one of the few artistic women photographers who have made images that have become iconic. Arbus committed suicide in 1971 after a bout of depression.
Judy Dater (born 1941) studied photography at San Francisco University; she gained a B.A.in 1963 and an M.A in 1966. She studied with Jack Welpott, whom she married in 1971. Dater collaborated with Welpott on the book project Women and Other Visions and often they use the same models for their various photography projects. Dater used the camera to try to “penetrate core psychologies" (Welles, E. 2004) and her images were intended to provoke thought in the viewer and not to be looked upon with passivity. Arbus placed her subjects before the viewer and seemed to make them more extraordinary and yet no more penetrable, Dater wants to get to the core of her subject and photographs in an attempt to show the viewer as much as possible. Dater’s images are aesthetically beautiful to look at but they use photography, staging, objects and poses to jar the viewer into thinking. Her images are certainly shot from a feminist perspective, and question the male gaze. Dater shows women who are controlled, comfortable with their bodies, confident and who break the passive stereotypical image of woman. Dater continues to work in photography today and has many major exhibitions. Her current work concentrates on computer art, installation and performance.