Diane Arbus


By | photography

Lisette Model (who also taught Diane Arbus) talks to Eugenia Parry about her photography students:   [….] “Most of them were lazy. They photographed superficially.[….] When they hung work for me to look at, I said they all had one thing in common – MEDIOCRITY. [….] I wasn’t interested in tricks or technical perfection. I explored fear. I knew a hell of a lot about that. [….] Respond to the impact of what’s coming toward you. That’s what leads you. You don’t make the pictures. They arrive. They make themselves.”

(from a narrative autobiography “Spitting into the Mirror” ©2009, Steidl, Göttingen/©2009 Lisette Model Foundation, New York/©2009 Eugenia Parry

Diane Arbus’ photographic project

By | photography

“I want to photograph the considerable ceremonies of our present because we tend while living here and now to perceive only what is random and barren and formless about it.

While we regret that the present is not like the past and despair of its ever becoming the future, its innumerable inscrutable habits lie in wait for their meaning.” [….]

Diane Arbus, start of 1963 Guggenheim Grant proposal.

Model interviewed

By | photography, street photography

“Their questions made me too aware of a thousand certainties I never possessed: sound visual training, perseverance, hard work in the darkroom, thousands of great, technically perfect photographs spanning a lifetime. That’s what Americans admire. Of the 25,000 negatives I shot (another fact I concealed), the few hundred pictures I call good are a drop in the bucket.”

Lisette Model (Diane Arbus’ teacher) , being interviewed about being interviewed, Eugenia Parry: “Shooting off my mouth – Spitting into the mirror” ed. Steidl ©2009 Göttingen, Germany.


By | photography

Diane’s forlorn freaks,

Garry’s uneasy streets,

Lee’s hidden signs,

Robert’s lonely places,

for what it’s worth…

f…. was a dirty word

By | photography

When I started taking photographs, ages ago, Henri Cartier-Bresson was the photographers’ pope so to speak. He had three dogmas for the believers, I had understood from reading the photo magazines and his own books (fortunately my French was not too bad):

first, there is a “decisive moment” for the photograph to be taken. Up to a point, there is certainly some truth in it, but some indecisive moments will do very well, I have meanwhile discovered. And it’s so irritating that every nitwit art critic with some general interest, preoccupied with knowledge but not even looking, comes up with this term to show he “knows about photography too”, even if there is no use for it.

second, you always used the whole negative, and sometimes even proudly showed you did so by including a subtle black border around the image on the paper print. There were even “styles” in the shaping of the outside of the border – some photographers used hand-torn carton frames to replace the narrow and sharp-edged metal frames that went with the enlarger. I even understood that Diane Arbus photographs (mostly posthumous prints) can be categorized and dated by their treatment of the image edge, soft without black border, narrow black border, uneven borders etc. 

third, and here comes the f….word, you should never use flash, Cartier-Bresson said, since it was “intolerably aggressive”, destroying the atmosphere, making the presence of the intruding photographer very obvious, and in fact, changing the whole action. That’s what he said and I was not unhappy to have an excuse not to use it for I did not have a lot of experience with it.

Then came house parties. I had done little work with flash and felt insecure about it. I had an electronic flash unit that was basic, but clumsy. Its head turned when I brushed against somebody’s shoulder and people froze like wild animals caught in car lights because it was blinding. This had to change. I bought two identical dedicated Nikon speedlights, since I worked with two identical cameras as well. Using also identical settings was the ideal solution. I soon found out after experimenting on a few films what the best combination of depth of field/stepped down lighting was. I had given up the idea of using the room lights, as there were unworkable extremes and strobes and lots of darkness, which did not go well with the detail that I strived for; I wanted to fill the frame with relevant information till it almost burst.  Flash made it all possible.That is how I overcame my initial fear of flashlight. I know I can use it for my kind of photography whenever I feel the need for it. Certainly in a house club with all its moving and pulsating lights no one will object either.

big money?

By | photography

You know the Diane Arbus photograph of the creepy kid with the toy handgrenade, looking as if he could kill his own mother? Someone once remarked -and I found it to be both funny and true- can you imagine some manager hanging that picture proudly on the wall behind his managerial desk in the big office room? He might fear the reaction from a visitor: “O, nice, your grandson, I suppose.”

Photographs with strangers on them don’t seem to be attractive as a decoration. Much too confronting, too personal. People who have the taste and the money to buy a good photograph will still prefer a landscape (in color most of the time) or something perfectly meaningless, but aesthetic, to the more problematic work of say, Robert Frank or Winogrand. So, if you want to make money from photography without having to wait for fame, forget street photography. Do it for passion or you will be disappointed big time.

why the blog

By | street photography

My website is all about photographs, about straightforward black&white analog (film) photography. And there are some pretty strong pictures, I think. But even the strongest photography can be diluted by putting too many words in between, so I decided to separate the texts from the images.
In this blog I will therefore comment on my own work, as well as possibly on current developments and subjects of interest in photography, with a special focus on real street photography in the Garry Winogrand vein. Other favorites that will no doubt be mentioned in the near future are Lee Friedlander, Robert Frank and Diane Arbus. So please visit this blog from time to time if you are interested in the backgrounds of my work and my thoughts about photography. Until later!

all texts (unless indicated otherwise)    © Tom Stappers