Monday, June 29, 2009

On to Other Countries?

I might travel to other countries after my Thai photo work is done. The countries at the top of the list are Cambodia, China and Mongolia. I have been to Cambodia several times but have not visited Angkor Wat since 1999, I would like to make photographs in that part of the world again. China and Mongolia are brand new countries for me, I have been to Hong Kong but never been to mainland China.

Two More Photo Sessions to Go

I have enough 8x10 film for two more photo sessions. Tomorrow I have 2 different men scheduled for 2pm and 4pm and then that's it. I will have shot 11 ladyboys, 9 men and 8 women. 28 people photographed over 31 photo sessions.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Mod 23

Was sitting outside on the street in a shortime bar area watching people walk up and down the road. After sitting there for maybe 15 minutes a Thai lady came up from one of the bars and started talking to me.

We sat and talked for over 1 hour about her life and mine, she had worked the bars for 4 months, her name was Mod she was 23 years old and very beautiful.

Mod told me that she did not want to live with any man that the only thing she wanted to do was spend time with her friends, that she felt nothing when sleeping with a man in her heart or sexually.

Mod is an intelligent lady who learned English quickly, her parents were farmers, she worked the bars because her family was poor. Many times I have heard Thais and others say that people who work the bars are to lazy to work hard at a normal job. I do not think that the bar life is the easy way out, it must be so tempting to fall into this life when you can make 10 times or 100 times what you can make working another job.

What kind of life would a woman like Mod have if her family had the money to send her to university. If she had the opportunities I had in my life what could she make of hers?

Nid 6 Years Later

I photographed Nit again tonight in a shortime room over the bar she has worked for the last 6 years. I first met and photographed Nid back in 2003, her eyes have dimmed since then, she looks tired most of the time, and now she has a small rose tattoo over her left breast.

Nid is a sweet lady who can still laugh when I make my silly jokes, I wonder how many more years she can work the bar life before it finally breaks her. Lots of damage has already been done to her emotionally but hopefully physically she can get through this part of her life.

Today before the shoot Nid showed me a cell phone video of a home she was building for her mother and her son and herself in the city of Korat in Northeast Thailand. I was happy to learn today that she was using her money in such a positive way, smart lady.

When I left Nid I told her I would see her next year but I hope she is not working in the bar when I return in 2010.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Long's Story

I photographed Long today again, this time in her room and I learned more about her life. She picked me up on her motorbike in the afternoon before the bars opened and drove me through the streets back to her apartment. The room rented for about $90 CAD a month was small and relatively clean, basically a room with a bed and small washroom and balcony. There was no fridge no air conditioning in the room, it was painted pink and on one wall there were 6 photos of some of her favorite male customers. Long has been working the bars for about 3 years but remains happy and upbeat about her fate. I learned more of her history today, did not understand everything as she only spoke Thai to me, but I got the main points.

- was married to a policeman and had a son with him, he died after drinking and driving a motorcycle. The son is now 7 and lives with Long' mother up oountry. Every month Long sends money to her mother and son.

- Longs father was a teacher he died from excessive drinking.

- Long came to Bangkok to work at a gas station but did not make enough money to support her mother and child, so when a friend asked her if she was interested in working in a bar with farang she accepted.

- She was almost 3 months pregnant with a Japanese customers baby (he was 65 Long was 25 at the time) when the Japanese man had a heart attack on the airplane and died after arriving in Thailand, Long had an abortion (7000 baht) after his death, and then prayed to Lord Buddha for forgiveness.

- She recently met a Farang male customer who promised to marry her, guy named Kevin from Australia (saw his photos and emails translated from English to Thai, Long cannot read English). Kevin has not called or written her for 7 months, Long told me she cried a lot. Emails were filled with sweet talk to her about love and such, and at the same time was talking about about the other women he had been with in Thailand when he was with her. The emails were basically a bunch of lies, example:

" I am not a butterfly, I only had 3 women when I was in Thailand, I liked you the best, I miss laying next to your warm sexy body. Love Kevin XXXXXXXX "

Butterfly= a man who sleeps with many ladies

Guess this Kevin guy spent 10 days in Thailand and 1 night with Long.

I volunteered to send an email to this fellow with Longs phone number etc. to try and reestablish contact.

Kevin sort of looked like a biker, big tough with a bald head and goatee style beard about 250 pounds and tall. Long is a small girl well under 5 feet and 38 kilos.

One interesting part of her room was that her bed was covered with stuffed toy dolls/animals. At one point in our talk she showed me how she hugged the dolls and how each had a name that corresponded with the name of the man who had given it to her.

I always wanted to try to make a documentary film about the life of a person in the bar scene, maybe at some future date I can try to do it with Long. I wish I had a video camera to record our talk today.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Room Full of Ladyboys

When I first came to Thailand in 1996 I remember being nervous and uncomfortable around ladyboys. Flash froward 13 years to today when I had 3 ladyboys in front of my camera in the studio, laughing and joking and making good photographs. The 3 ladyboys were Jiji, Fai and Apple, all quite photogenic.

Not sure why I felt uncomfortable in the past, it is probably just a case of not understanding something and being afraid because of your own ignorance.

I tried to photograph a series of dypics, I want to place two vertical large photographs side by side in one frame and create one work from two photographs.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Bla's Room

Photographed Bla in her room today. The room was hot and small with a spinning ceiling fan,it had not been painted for decades and was dirty. During the shoot Bla found a rather large cockroach which she swept out the door with a magazine. The room rented for about $5 CAD a day, Bla shared the room with another Thai girl who does not work as a prostitute.

I photographed her in various areas of the room, she had a dog toy and a bird toy that sang, there were no batteries for the bird toy Bla wanted to hear it sing again and asked me if I had any batteries.

Nice sweet girl who laughed and told jokes with me but who lived in a terrible place doing terrible things. When I cut my leg during the shoot Bla put some cream on the scraped skin for me. She said she often brought farang males back her room for shortime sex, some of the farang had sex with her then left the room without paying.

When I left the room I had to pay a fee to the man sitting out front, I guess when someone is brought to the room their is an extra charge (farang or Thai).

Wednesday, June 24, 2009


Was at a McDonalds today where I saw a farang male about 35 years old so drunk he could barely walk. If it was not so pathetic it would have been funny to watch him stumble about holding his little plastic McDonalds bag. What was really weird was that even thou he could barely stand he still approached 3 working girls on the street after he had picked up his meal.

Photographing Bla Again

Bla a lady worker I have photographed several times keeps asking me to photograph her again. Bla is a nice sweet lady but not attractive, she is thin looks sickly and is desperately trying to make money. She cannot find any customers and has been arrested by the police several times, she now is down to pawning her cell phone (for $9.00) for some cash.

I will photograph her in daily room that she rents for 40 baht a day ($1.30 CAD).

Nurse or Girlfriend??

Saw two couples today in two different restaurants. Each couple included a man in his late 70s or early 80s and a Thai woman about 30 years old. The man in both cases was basically an invalid, I have seen couples like these before, I have never been quite sure if the girl in this relationship was a girlfriend or nursemaid. Maybe she is a combination of both, maybe she nurses him and also provides a trusting relationship as well as a sexual one at times.


Photographed a hardcore girl named Bay. Bay had tattoos on her hand and butt, never seen that before. She was very money oriented, sexy and quite beautiful but also hard and cynical, no doubt molded by her years in the bars.
Gerry: Do you have a boyfriend?
Bay: I have a customer in Norway.
Gerry: You have a boyfriend in Norway?
Bay: No I have a customer.
Gerry: Oh a customer.
Bay: In Norway also in England and America.

Running out of film now have enough for 4 or 5 shoots, want to photograph at least 3 more ladyboys.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Gerry Yaum Goes French

Latest link to the page comes from some kind of French site, not sure what it is all about.

Darkroom Fun Ahead

I am really looking forward to developing all this film and making prints in the year to come. I really enjoy my time in the dark after a my Thai shoots. It is such a pleasure to rediscover the people I photograph now in the months ahead. Making large, beautiful, sharp and detailed portraits is a super high that is hard to verbalize.

I also am looking forward to making my annual VAAA submission that will be rejected.

: )

Future Projects

Even as I make photos on this project I have been thinking of the images I want to make in the future. I want to do the "Khon Thai Project (The Thai People)" in the years to come, probably using a 4x5 rangefinder along with b/w or color film.

Recently I was thinking about also continuing the white background images made with the 8x10. I want to photograph other subjects, I am tired of photographing sex workers. I identify with these people and will probably come back to making portraits of them in the future but I want to also photograph other subjects that interest me.

- Monks and Nuns
- Muay Thai Boxers
- Police/Army/Navy officers and cadets

When I go back to Canada I plan on purchasing a second set of flash equipment. I will have one for Canada and one for Thailand then. I can work with various lens (want to try the 360mm more, Avedons lens) and also want to work on my composition and speed in focusing and improve the rhythm I have of shooting.

Ti, Sak and Jiab

Photographed 3 men this afternoon,Ti,Sak and Jiab. All 3 men work in a gay gogo bar in a gay area of the city. I photographed Ti back in 2007, this is the second time I have photographed him this trip. I will do solo shoots with Jiab and Sak tomorrow afternoon, 2 hours apart.

Both Ti and Sak have extensive tatoos which I hope will work well in the portraits. Sak has no tattoos but has a certain sadness in his expressions that appeals to me. It was difficult and fun to try and shoot all 3 men at the same time in my little itty bitty studio with my one 300mm lens.

I am also hoping I can photograph another man with tattoos and piercings named Ball in a couple of days along with a man named Mon who I photographed in 2007.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Drunks and Sex

This town wheres you down. Day after day what you see on the streets and in the bars is drunk men chasing the women and men working the bars. I tire of being in this environment, how can men stay here for decades? If you have any understanding of Thailand and Thai culture you can see the falsehoods in this city. Thai woman do not act the way the women of the bars do, it is an illusion created for the sex tourists who visit. It is a Disneyland of sex here, artificial and empty.

Do the men here not see the hollow look in the women's eyes? Do they not see the anger and disgust they often feel for the men they are with? When I look at the couples on the street maybe 2 in 10 seem genuinely happy. Are the rest of the men here blind to the reality of their relationships? to drunk to notice? or do they not care? do they want to just buy sex and move on to another woman every few days? maybe so.

I look forward to my next trip here when I will start my "Khon Thai Series". I want to record/document the reality of Thailand, I want to photograph the real Thai people.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

German chokes on dentures, dies in a Soi 6 bar

This story is from a local paper, an inglorious way to go.


German chokes on dentures, dies in a Soi 6 bar

Boonlua Chatree
A German man, sleepy after rounds of beer drinking died after swallowing his dentures in a room above a Soi 6 bar.
Klaus Peter Rudolf J. Unger, three days beyond his 69th birthday, was discovered flailing wildly on a bed on the second floor of the Lucky beer bar June 10 by owner Kanitha Noothong. Although realizing the man was choking, Kanitha was unable to rescue him before he suffocated.
Police arrived to find Unger lying dead in only his underwear for about 10 minutes.
There were no signs of disarray or fighting in the room.
Kanitha said Unger had been drinking beer in her bar and asking to rest in a room upstairs. She went up to check on him and saw him choking on his upper dentures and called an ambulance. He died before the medical team arrived. Unger’s body was sent to the Forensic Institute for an autopsy.

Following Jock's Advice

In emails that Jock Sturges sent me when I asked him to critique my work he suggested I needed to photograph the same people over several years. I have tried to do that during this years series of photographs. So far this trip I have rephotographed several people from 2007 and 2008.

- Nid female worker
- Long female worker
- Jiji ladyboy worker

Over the next few days I will try to rephotograph Ti and Mon, both male workers. I have also photographed several people for the first time this trip but have done several sessions over several day (up to 3 sessions per person).

It is so much easier photographing people that know and trust you. The photographer also benefits, if you photograph someone you know well you can usually communicate your messege more clearly.


Photographed a male freelance sex worker named Da yesterday. Da has very sensitive eyes, I hope I can communicate the message I saw in his eyes into the final prints.

I will photograph Da again today with another male worker named Bik. I want to do a series of heads with them. I made only 1 head shot of Long a female sex worker last trip as I was unsure of the technique, I really liked that one image so this trip I have been doing heads with almost everyone I have made photos of. If I can get these powerful heads composed/exposed and focused correctly I could do a submission that consists of 10 or 15, 20x24 b/w head shots.

Boy Gogos

Ventured into the world of male gogos today. I am trying to photograph more men this trip, to round out the picture of the sex worker (Female,Ladyboy,Male). To find people to photograph I am going to a number of bars in the gay areas.

I found and met Ti again, the man I photographed 2 years ago in 2007. I also was stopped by another man I photographed before. eThe mans name was Mon 2 years ago I ago but did not recognise him, he stopped me outside a bar and spoke to me, I photographed him, I did recognised him with some thought and after hearing his name, he had changed his haircut and looks quite different now.

Tonight I think will be quite fruitful, I should be able to make photos of 4 or more of men from the bars I visited.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Overheard Conversation

Was at a restaurant last night and over heard the following conversation between a farang and a bargirl. The farang was about 70 years old with a big belly and healthy tan, he had white hair and was dressed all in white. The bargirl was abit older around 30 years and looked angry.

I never go with other lady from your bar.
Bargirl: I not believe you.
Farang: I never do.

If a man goes with a girl from a bar the girl will expect him to stay loyal and not go with other girls from the same bar. It is a big taboo if a man goes with other girls from the bar.

The whole arguing with bargirls about not having sex with other woman is very common here. To spend your old age sitting in a restaurant doing that seems like such a waste of time. One month from now he will be in a different restaurant with a different bargirl having the same meaningless conversation.

Hair Cut

Boy is getting a haircut here in Thailand a pleasure. You walk into a shop they do the following:

- Wash and massage your head which feels great.
- Cut/shave your hair, the cut usually lasts about 45 minutes.
- Rewash your hair to remove all the cut/loose hairs.
- Hair is dried/jelled.

I had a haircut like this today and it cost me 160 baht ($5.50 CAD)

Damn I wish I could have one of these shops back home I pay $15 for a 10 minute haircutt (cut only).

Monday, June 15, 2009

Eli Expat

In the bar areas of Thailand most of the men you meet are sleazeballs, much of the scum of the earth descends into the bar world for cheap sex and booze.

Today I met someone different I had a very articulate interesting conversation with a ex pat named Eli. We talked for about 3 hours on a variety of subjects:

- Palestinian, Israeli conflict
- Africa
- Languages (Eli spoke 5, English, Hebrew,Hungarian, Spanish, Swahili)
- Love
- Family, being a father
- Hate, fighting, war

With most farang here wanting to talk about woman, sex and running down the Thai people it was very refreshing to speak about places and worlds I might never enter.

Feeling Comfortable

Feeling more comfortable in Thailand than I have ever felt before. My Thai language skills have improved, I can joke better, speaking on the telephone is not so intimidating now, I can order food from markets and street stalls, I can even pick up snippets of conversations and understand some songs and some Thai TV. Beyond the language I feel comfortable moving in the streets, using various forms of transport, getting help when needed etc.

I think that my "Khon Thai Project, Thai People Project" is a practical possibility now. I just wish I could remain here and continue to improve my language skills, when I return to Canada everything digresses.

Rak and Gai

Photographed Rak 35 and Gai 23 today. This is the second time I am photographed Rak and the first time I photographed Gai. Gai is a very outgoing very straight forward fun person to be around. Gai joked and laughed and performed for the camera. After the photo session we all went out and had a nice breakfast. It was fun to sit and talk to them they told me about their lives. Rak and Gai are lesbian lovers they work with Western men on the street but in private they are lovers. Rak told me that the reason she was with a lady was because before she had many problems with her Thai husband and now she found it easier to relate, trust and talk to a lady (Gai), she cannot share her inner self with a man anymore. From talking to them and interacting with them a longer time I feel that Gai is a lesbian in her heart but Rak is one more out of necessity to have someone she could trust and share with.

Two very nice ladies that I enjoy being with. I remember back to the first time I saw Rak and the farang man who spoke about her, he was only interested in her because she had a reputation for giving good oral sex. Farang males sex pats look at her and only see that part of her but she is so much more. It makes me angry to think back to the way he spoke about her.

Sunday, June 14, 2009


Photographed Gop tonight a 27 year old ladyboy. Gop's mother died 4 years ago and her father is sick back home, Gop helps support her family working in the bars.

Gop is a sad and erratic person, her moods shift rapidly. At times during the photo session she made advances towards me at other times she cried when talking about missing her boyfriend and helping her family.

She kissed me twice on the cheek and told me how cute I was, she talked about her life and how all farang always lied about everything. Here dream was to meet someone who could take care of her.

Gop also dreamed of having breasts which cost about $1315 USD.


Photographed a nice lady named Rak today, 35 years old with a 15 year old son. Rak has a wonderful laugh which made her seem soft and sweet. I liked her almost immediately, she seemed honest, straightforward and practical. Even thou her education was limited Rak is smarter than many of her customers.

Police Raids

Thai police had been raiding the street where the freelancers work recently. They fine the girls 100 baht the first time they arrest them and then 500 baht the second time. I was told the reason they arrest the girls was because the bar owners did not like the fact the girls were undercutting their business (the women/men on the street go with customers at a lower rate than the women/men in the bars). Police receive bribes from the bars then arrest the girls so the bars will be able to make a larger profit. The raids also included prearranged news coverage which creates the PR illusion that the police are not corrupt and doing their duty.

Da Strong Thai Lady

Met a strong tough and smart Thai woman today Da. Da was sitting outside a shortime bar but was not a sex worker, she was probably an owner or mamason at the bar.

Da had a simple philosophy, it basically said you should learn to love yourself first and not rely on others. She told me that many of her friends had tried to commit suicide when they had lost husbands/boyfriends. Da seemed hardened by life and very practical and outspoken, example:

"I was sitting at a bus station when a farang man sat beside me smoking a cigarette. I said to him, DO YOU KNOW ME, the man says no, WHY ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME, WHY DO YOU SIT HERE AND GIVE ME SECOND HAND SMOKE?"

R American Expat

Talked for over 2 hours yesterday to a American expat named R, R actually did most of the talking. It seems most expats here love to talk when you meet them, maybe they just miss speaking English to someone who is fluent and educated, they seem lonely to me.

R was a police officer from Chicago, divorced over 20 years ago and has been living in spots around the world where he can meet women, Costa Rica, Philippines and now Thailand. R showed me many clothed tasteful photos of his girlfriends from the various countries, all between 20 and 35, all extremely beautiful. I must have looked at photos of over 30 girls.

For the most R was polite when talking about the girlfriends and the countries he has visited but he was also proud of his sexual prowess, he talked about his technique and how he could "bang her good for 1 hour" and how he "worked the clit to get her to make noises". R is in this 60s

The first time I met R he was talking to a Thai sex worker on the street, he was touching all over her body, it seemed creepy to me, he looked like was about to pounce on her like vulture, at least he gave the girl some money when s he left. He could not take the girl back to his room because he was also interested in the woman running his apartment and did not want her to see him with another woman, or it might ruin his chances.

My first impression of R was negative he looked like a predator to me a creepy guy dressed in white clothing. Talking to him later thou, he was well spoken, polite and intelligent.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Photographed a Thai man named Sico today 21 years old from the town of Roy Et. Sico came to Pattaya because his family was poor, he worked in a male gogo bar as a server and was paid only 2500 baht a month ($75 CAD). He quit his job and tried to find another job but could not so started selling his body on the street to western men.

I photographed him for 1 hour and we talked about his life. Sico was very nice and spoke politely by the end of the session we were friends of a sort, he was relaxed and joking. His view of farang(Western) men has been twisted by his personal experiences. He said "I never seen a farang like you before, other farang only want sex sex sex."

Thai Massage

Traditional Thai massage is a wonderful experience. The masseuse uses his/her fingers/hands/elbows/knees/feet and body weight to give a very relaxing massage. Last night I had my second massage but spent to much time talking. I think I talked more Thai in that 2 hour period then I have in the last 2 years!! I was getting a headache after after all the talking. The lady giving me my massage (Boon 48 years old) understood most of what I said and I understood about 60-70% of what she said. I think my Thai is improving again, being in country forces me to speak and to learn but sometimes I feel very tongue tied!!!


Photographed Bla last night, a girl 21 who worked the streets as a freelance worker. Bla is very very thin with bad skin, she might be sick from HIV am not sure. She had a boy child who died before, very sad empty eyes.

I was sitting on a street bench drinking water when Bla sat down beside me, she was eating a small package of cookies and offered me one. Here was a girl that had very little money who was selling her body on the street but still was polite enough to offer food to a stranger.

Noy and Nui

Was walking down the street when I saw 2 Thai woman looking for customers, both looked young and were attracting interest from a farang man of about 60 years old. I could tell from the body language of one woman that she wanted nothing to do with this man. She kept moving farther ad farther away from him but he kept returning again and again (3 times when I was watching) to talk to her.

After his 3 third attempt I could see that the woman was very uncomfortable. I called the woman over and she sat beside me and we talked. I spoke to her in Thai about the old farang and she relaxed and smiled and then told the other woman what I had said. The girl was named Noy, she claimed to be 18 but looked younger (hard to tell somethimes the age of Thai people), Noy was working the street with her older sister a lady named Nui, she looked about 2 years older than Noy. I talked to them both for about 10 minutes, then they left to find a customer, I wished them goodluck and Noy wished me good luck in return.

So sad to see nice girls like these selling themselves to fat old farang, something is wrong with a world that allows this to happen.

Ladyboy Prejudice

I photographed a Thai ladyboy friend named Jiji for the 4th time today (once in 2007, once in 2008 and 2 times this year).

Ladyboys in Thailand face ridicule and prejudice. I believe that the Thai people are much more tolerant than Western countries like Canada or the USA are when it comes to acceptance of gay people. Even thou they are more accepting of this alternative lifestyle here in Thailand ladyboys still feel prejudice.

Jiji told me that many times when she walks on the street, Thai men will make jokes at her expense, she said that farang (western) men will often treat her better than Thais do.

Thai Massage

Had a wonderful traditional Thai massage last night, 2 hours of massage with tip cost about $10.50 CAD.

In the future I would like to include people who give massages in my "Khon Thai" project.

I would also like to make photos of people working in the soapy sex massage as well as blind masseurs who do traditional massage.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Social Deviants?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Expat Quote

Why is the Philippines better than Thailand?

"The pussy is cheaper, the beer is cheaper"

Expat Quote

Conversation with a disabled 70+ year old American expat on a street where freelance workers are picked up.

Gerry: "Whats her name?" (he had asked a girl on the street to visit his room)

J: "I don't know (incredulous look on face at my question), she is supposed to do the best smoke (oral sex)on the street and I want my dick sucked, heard she puts on quite a freak"

I had a conversation with the girl later her name is Rak 35 years old, nice friendly lady, laughed a lot, she told him she would go to his room but later chose not to go.

10 dollar Meal

Have a photo session scheduled today for 2pm at 12 went out to get some food.

-stir fried mixed vegetables
-fried chicken with garlic
-4 large raw oysters eaten with sauce, fried onions, lemongrass, lime and a Thai vegetable (not sure of its name)
-steamed rice
-bottle of water

cost? about $10 CAD

It was actually to much food, I have some of the chicken in my fridge now.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Speaking Thai Again

The first week back speaking Thai I felt like I had marbles in my mouth. Yesterday was the first day that I felt comfortable speaking the language again. When your speaking a foreign language to native speakers you have to go all out with confidence which I am starting to do again. Your bound to make mistakes but that is the way you learn. I was able to speak to ordinary Thais, go to the market to shop etc.

I had some very nice conversations last night, including a man with a wheeled street cart who was selling fried pork and sticky rice. He was surprised I could read his sign written in Thai and we talked about spoken and written languages.

I also talked to one of my friends here who I have photographed 4 or 5 times now. She works in a bar that has shows for customers and spoke to me of that along with how much money she made and how much the bar made (gave me a greater understanding of the scene behind the scene). When you can speak the language of the country your in it allows you to gain insights you would not normally be able to. I need to become fluent in this language, I either have to spend more time here or find more people to speak to in Canada.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Broken Ground Glass

My main and back up ground glass were both broken this trip while flying here. I tried to find one in Bangkok but cannot, the closest 8x10 ground glass in the world seems to be in Hong Kong.

Currently I am working with one of the broken ones, it has about 10 cracks in it and one vertical break into 2 separate pieces.

I glued and taped it together as best I could but it is on the verge of breaking down everytime I slide a film holder in and out.

I am not sure it will last me 30 photo shoots.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Walking the Scene, Tired

Last night I had a hard time getting motivated, felt tired carrying my loaded down camera bag walking the streets. The heat, the weight of the bag and just a general lack of energy was difficult to overcome. The only time I felt good during the night was when I was making the Mat photos in studio. Making the photographs made me happy and gave me a boost of energy as it usually does.

Doing much of the work myself without assistants is exhausting. My timeline to get the photos done in makes me push myself. I wish I could spend 6 months doing this (not 5 weeks) so I could just rest more and take things slowly.

I feel I need to make photographs outside of this world. I will probably make photos of people in the scene for the rest of my life but I would also like to open up, to shoot subjects from all areas of Thai society. I have been thinking of this a lot this trip. I am not sure if the 8x10 is that practical a camera here when shooting in the heat of the day in places like Bangkok, carry a tripod and extra heavy holders etc does not seem to me the way to go it will also affect my mobility and speed of shooting. I am thinking now of using 2 Polaroid conversion camera made by Dean Jones, my 135mm Banarama as well as a second camera (that I need to purchase) which would have a wider angle lens (possibly a 90mm) with this setup I could walk the streets, villages and rural areas making portraits on the fly.

Matt 26

Photographed Matt for third time last night, previously I had photographed her in 2007 and 2008. I have another session scheduled with her and a ladyboy I photographed photographed 1 time last year named Bee.

Matt is fun to photograph a strong person visually, someone that Avedon used to say that could "Hold a wall."

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Joom 28

In Bangkok 2 days ago I had a conversation on the street swith a Thai girl named Joom. Joom of a was drunk and broken hearted as a result of a breakup with a Belgium man. She kept on asking me if she was a bad girl, why this man did not want her?? I guess he had told her the reason he broke up with her was bacuase she was no good at sex. Joom had gone back to his hotel room after and saw her man in bed with another woman.

2 English Blokes

Sitting outside a 7/11 yesterday I had a short conversation with 2 westerners. The 2 men were both English 50 years old but looked younger, they had spent over 10 years in Asia.

When I first sat down they were grading the woman that passed by, breast size, body shape etc. I asked them which girls they preferred Thai or Philippine, without hesitation they said Filipinas to quote "Filipinas are 1 billion times better!! than Thai girls" They told me that filipinas had higher morals and were not so money grubbing.

I wonder if these guys have had relationships with none bargirls, one man had spent 5consecutive years in Thailand so you would think he would have varied experiences but he still chose to live in the bargirl capital of the country.

Nit 50

I photographed Nit again a few days back. I have photographed her 4 times now in 1999,2003, 2008 and this year. I learned more about her life, she has a son who is 1/2 Thai and 1/2 German. The sons father died 10 years ago in Berlin. I will try to photograph her again with the 8x10 camera and white background over the next few weeks. Nit has been in the scene for several decades, I asked how many men she had been with in the room I photographed her at and she said hundreds and was not joking.

I am trying to do something Jock Sturges recommended, he told me to get to know the people I photograph better and to photograph the same subjects multiple times. If you know the people you photograph you can hopefully communicate that understanding in your portraiture.

The Silent Dinner

Every time I come to the bar areas here in Thai and see the relationships between the Thai bar girls and the western tourists it surprises me. I saw something last night that I see every trip but it still something I notice and comment on.

I was at a restaurant and at the table beside me an older farang and younger Thai bargirl were having a meal. I sat and ate and was beside them for over 30 minutes but they did not exchange a word, not even a smile or an attempt at communication. The two of them just sat there in their glum little worlds, they were together but worlds apart. It all seemed so empty and shallow, man pays for sex, woman and man do not relate to each other, have no inner connection or understanding.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

In Thai

Well made it to Thailand, 4 plane rides and lots of uncomfortable moments later I am here. The worse part was lugging the film through all the security at the airports. If I see another x-ray film destroying station I think I will vomit. I managed to not get my 120 film x-rayed but the 8x10 film was hit 3 times (1 time because I was forced to fly through Hong Kong when China airline changed my flight without informing me ahead of time). I have to try and get the 8x10 film hand checked on the trip home (bound to be a difficult in Vancouver).

I checked the flash equipment I had stored in Thailand and it looks ok some mice shit in the box but that's about it. I am hoping when I plug everything in it will power up and work correctly, hope hope!

I have a big room booked to use for my studio that will cost about 400-500 CAD for 5 weeks of shooting. The room is the nicest and the largest I have ever had in Thailand so it should help with the making of the photographs, I can space the flash units and the subject better to prevent flare etc.

I will take all the equipment via van tomorrow to the room and set up the studio. Hopefully if everything goes to plan I should be making portraits in 2 or 3 days.


A day before I left to make photographs in Thailand I found out that my cousin Randy had died. It has been several days now since I heard the news but I keep thinking back to the times as a boy that Randy and I spent together. We used to go motorbiking in the fields and trails around his parents acreage. Randy had built a raft with his father that he kept at a small isolated lake nearby, we used to ride our motorbikes out to the lake, get on the raft and head out to open water. Poling the raft around the lake was like something out of Mark Twain, a Huck Finn moment. I remember laying on the deck of the raft as the sun beat down on us, hot summer days floating and looking up a the clouds. The lake had many perch in it and we used to use fishing line with small yellow jigs to catch dozens of small pearch which we then released back into the lake.

Over the last several days I have been thinking back to those teenage days with Randy. We are about the same age and it seems so wrong that he is gone now, much to early only 45 years old. I have to use the time I have left wisely, have to make the photographs I want to make before I run out of time as happens to all of us one day.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Quote: Mary Seller friend of Diane Arbus

''She was always wondering not was it good enough, but was it true enough.''

Quotes: Diane Arbus

''It was my teacher, Lisette Model, who finally made it clear to me that the more specific you are, the more general it'll be.''

''For me the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture,and more complicated.''

Arbus Reconsidered

September 14, 2003
By Arthur Lubow
'Giving a camera to Diane Arbus is like giving a hand grenade to a baby,'' Norman Mailer said after seeing how she had captured him, leaning back in a velvet armchair with his legs splayed cockily. The quip was funny, but a little off base. A camera for Arbus was like a latchkey. With one around her neck, she could open almost any door. Fearless, tenacious, vulnerable -- the combination conquered resistance. In an eye-opening sequence in ''Revelations,'' the compendious new book that is being published in tandem with a full-scale retrospective at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, you discover with a start the behind-the-scenes drama that produced her famous photograph of ''A Naked Man Being a Woman.'' As her title indicates, it is a portrait of a young man standing naked in his apartment, genitals tucked out of sight, in a Venus-on-the-half-shell pose. First she photographed him as a bouffant-haired young matron on a park bench; then at home in a bra and half slip; unwigged and unclothed a few moments later, with legs demurely crossed; up posing for the prized shot; and finally, as a seemingly ordinary fellow back on a park bench. Somehow, she had persuaded him to take her home and expose a secret life. It's what she did again and again. ''She got herself to go up to people on the street and ask if she could photograph them,'' recalls her former husband, Allan Arbus. ''One thing she often said was, 'I'm just practicing.''' He chuckles. ''And indeed, I guess she was.''

During her lifetime, Arbus was lionized, but she was also lambasted for being exploitative. Her suicide in 1971 seemed to corroborate the caricature of her as a freaky ghoul. The critic Susan Sontag divined that Arbus photographed ''people who are pathetic, pitiable, as well as repulsive,'' from a vantage point ''based on distance, on privilege, on a feeling that what the viewer is asked to look at is really other.'' Patricia Bosworth's biography in 1984 took the suicide as an emblem of the life and told a lurid tale that is neatly summarized by the tag line on the paperback edition: ''HER CAMERA WAS THE WINDOW TO A TORTURED SOUL.'' In The New York Review of Books, Jonathan Lieberson eviscerated Bosworth's book but also deprecated Arbus's pictures as ''mannered, static snapshots'' that were ''chaste, icy, stylized.'' Chaste, icy, stylized? Arbus's friend Richard Avedon, maybe. Not Diane Arbus.

Doon Arbus was 26 when Diane died. As the older daughter of a divorced mother, she took on the responsibility of managing the estate. Her response to the critics was to clamp the spigot shut. Arbus's letters, journals and diaries could not be examined. Anyone wishing to reproduce Arbus photographs would have to submit the book or article for Doon's vetting; any museum contemplating a retrospective had to enlist her active collaboration. In almost all cases, permission was denied. Unsurprisingly, critics and scholars fumed. As Anthony W. Lee, the co-author of a new academic treatise, ''Diane Arbus: Family Albums,'' puts it in an acid footnote, ''Those familiar with the writings on Arbus's photographs will recognize a common thread that joins them all, which this essay also shares: nearly all are published without the benefit of reproductions of some of her most famous work.'' That work now appeared in three handsome, meticulous monographs, which over the last three decades Doon has compiled and released.

So it comes as a shock to see -- in the first full-scale museum retrospective since 1972 and in the book -- that Diane Arbus at long last is presented whole. Together with the pictures that have become icons (the Jewish giant and his bewildered parents, the disturbingly different identical twins, the in-process transvestite in hair curlers, etc.), there are many of her photographs that have never been seen (or even, in some cases, printed). Better still, there is a rich assortment of extracts from her letters and journals that reveal her to be a quirky, funny, first-rate writer, an extraordinarily loving mother and an empathetic observer of her photographic subjects. More than 30 years after her death, a new portrait is emerging of one of the most powerful American artists of the 20th century, in the style that she favored. Uncropped.

Allan, who is now a trim and graceful white-haired man of 85, gave Diane her first camera soon after they married in 1941. She was 18, and they had met five years earlier, when he started working at Russek's department store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, the fur and clothing emporium founded by her grandfather and run by her father, David Nemerov. Diane was the second of three children (her older brother, Howard, became a prize-winning poet). She was named for a character in a play her mother enjoyed; as with her fictional namesake, it was pronounced ''Dee-ann.'' During Diane's childhood, the Nemerovs lived in large apartments on Central Park West and on Park Avenue. ''The family fortune always seemed to me humiliating,'' she told the journalist Studs Terkel. ''It was like being a princess in some loathsome movie'' set in ''some kind of Transylvanian obscure Middle European country.'' The public rooms were filled with reproduction French furniture in slipcovers. In the Nemerovs' home life, as in their ritzy clothing store, everything was for show.

Diane attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School in the leafy Riverdale section of the Bronx, where the student body was composed largely of the children of affluent, liberal Jews. In art class, her renderings stood apart. ''She would look at a model and draw what none of us saw,'' recalls her classmate, the screenwriter Stewart Stern. Yet she mistrusted her facility with a paintbrush. ''As soon as she finished something, she'd show it and they'd say, 'Oh, Diane, it's marvelous, it's marvelous,''' Allan recounts. Diane told Terkel that praise of that sort ''made me feel shaky.'' Her father enlisted the Russek's fashion illustrator to give her lessons, but Diane lost interest in painting, perhaps because it was easy for her. ''I had a sense that if I were terrific at it, it wasn't worth doing, and I had no real sense of wanting to do it,'' she said.

She felt otherwise about the Graflex, a smaller version of the classic newsman's camera, that she received from Allan. Photography suited her. She had a sharp eye. ''We once visited a cousin of mine,'' Allan recalls. ''He had a large bookcase, which extended -- '' He indicates a span of 8 or 10 feet. ''We sat on a couch opposite the bookcase. Some weeks later, we visited him again, and Diane said, 'Oh, you have a new book.''' The newlyweds would study photographs in galleries, especially Alfred Stieglitz's American Place, and in the Museum of Modern Art. The Park Avenue apartment building in which Diane's parents lived had a darkroom for the use of tenants. The young Arbuses appropriated it.

David Nemerov, who was wondering how his son-in-law intended to earn a living, happily hired the couple to do advertising shoots for Russek's. ''We were living, breathing photography at every moment,'' Allan says. ''This was a way to get paid for it.'' Although he and Diane admired the photojournalism of Henri Cartier-Bresson, the heyday of the pictorial newsmagazine was about to fade before the allure of television, and the excitement -- along with the opportunity -- was in fashion magazines. The Second World War delayed until 1946 the debut of their fashion photography studio, which operated under the joint credit ''Diane & Allan Arbus.'' Diane came up with the ideas; Allan set up the lights and camera, clicked the shutter, developed the film and printed the proofs. The business was a success but unremittingly stressful. ''We never felt satisfied,'' Allan explains. ''There was that awful seesaw. When Diane felt O.K., I would be in the dumps, and when I would be exhilarated, she would be depressed.'' In retrospect, he says he thinks it was a mistake to demand a concept for each shoot rather than simply photograph models in front of white no-seam paper, as Avedon did in Harper's Bazaar to great acclaim. ''I guess we figured if we photographed the way Dick did, it wouldn't come out,'' he says. ''We were afraid to try it. I remember one day Dick just popped into the studio. We were talking back and forth. I said, 'When we started in this, I thought it would be so easy.' He said, 'Isn't it?'''

In 1951, they closed down the studio and escaped to Europe with their 6-year-old daughter, Doon. (Their second child, Amy, would be born three years later.) But the respite lasted only a year. Once back, it was the same grind for four more years until, one night in 1956, Diane quit. ''I can't do it anymore,'' she told Allan unexpectedly one evening. Her voice rose an octave. ''I'm not going to do it anymore.'' Although unprepared, Allan understood. ''At a fashion sitting, I was the one operating the camera,'' he says. ''I was directing the models on what to do. And Diane would have to go in and pin the dress if it wasn't hanging right. It was demeaning to her. It was a repulsive role.'' At first he was terrified of operating without her. ''But it came out all right,'' he says. ''In some ways, it was easier to work, because I didn't have that load of Diane's dissatisfaction to deal with.''

Soon after Arbus's death, the art director Marvin Israel -- who was her lover, colleague, critic and goad -- told a television journalist: ''It could be argued that for Diane the most valuable thing wasn't the photograph itself, the art object; it was the event, the experience. . . . The photograph is like her trophy -- it's what she received as the reward for this adventure.'' Today, when you shuffle through the lifeless photos by imitators in the Arbus idiom, you are reminded of how much time Arbus spent with so many of her subjects and of how fascinated she was by their lives. She invested the energy in them that a painter like Lucian Freud or Francis Bacon would devote to repeated portrait sittings; but unlike Freud or Bacon, who chose their intimates as their subjects, Arbus picked strangers and, through her infectious empathy, was able to transform these subjects into intimates. ''She was an emissary from the world of feeling,'' says the photographer Joel Meyerowitz. ''People opened up to her in an emotional way, and they yielded their mystery.'' Without sentimentalizing them or ignoring their failings, she liked and admired her freaks. She first met Eddie Carmel, the Jewish giant, almost a decade before she took her extraordinary photograph of him with his parents. You feel that had she never gotten the picture, Arbus still would have considered the time with Carmel well spent.

Robert Brown, a neighbor and friend who often breakfasted with the Arbuses when they lived on East 72nd, recalls a Sunday morning, probably in 1957, when Allan showed Diane a newspaper item that he knew would interest her: the circus was coming to town. The troupe would be debarking from a train early the next morning and parading to Madison Square Garden. ''Let's go!'' Diane said. Allan was too busy, but Brown, who is an actor, accompanied her to the parade and then drove her to Madison Square Garden. Coming to pick her up three hours later, Brown asked the backstage doorman where she was. ''Oh, the photographer?'' the man answered. ''She never got very far.'' He pointed. She was sitting on the floor with the midgets. ''I don't think she was snapping,'' Brown says. ''She was getting involved.''

Arbus trawled the city, getting deeply involved with the people who caught her eye: the sideshow performers at Hubert's Dime Museum and Flea Circus, the cross-dressers at Club 82, the moonstruck visionaries with handmade helmets and crackpot theories, the magicians and fortunetellers and self-proclaimed prophets. But she also pursued more ''ordinary'' types -- the swimmers at Coney Island, the strollers down Fifth Avenue, the people on benches in Central Park. At first, she was shy about getting too close. Sometimes she would catch her quarry unawares, from a distance, and then crop the image to give a close-up effect. But she wasn't happy doing that. ''We were very against cropping,'' Allan says. She wanted to capture her subjects whole and unaltered, before adding them to her ''butterfly collection.''

Many of her pictures from the 50's are grainy, in the style of Cartier-Bresson, Robert Frank and other documentary photographers of the time. ''The reduced tonal scale makes it seem like a copy of a copy, like an old record that's faded and a lot of the information is gone,'' says John Szarkowski, curator emeritus of photography at the Museum of Modern Art. ''Which is fine for a certain kind of description, where you know you're not getting everything.'' In the late 50's, however, something mysterious transformed Arbus's work. ''I don't think there is any development,'' Szarkowski says. ''It happened all at once. Basically, it was like St. Paul on the road to Damascus.'' Allan is more specific: ''That was Lisette. Three sessions and Diane was a photographer.''

Diane took her first course with Lisette Model in 1956. Earlier she had studied briefly with Berenice Abbott and Alexey Brodovitch, but Model had a far greater impact on her artistically and personally. ''Model was able to instill in Arbus a self-confidence of approach and engagement that really released her,'' says Peter C. Bunnell, curator emeritus of photography at Princeton University. ''Arbus in her own personality was rather shy. Not what Lisette was, in a European tradition, an independent, aggressive woman.'' Model's great influence on Arbus came through their conversations about the art of photography. ''After three months, her style was there,'' Model told the writer Phillip Lopate. ''First only grainy and two-tone. Then perfection.'' Arbus, shortly before her death, told her own class of students, ''It was my teacher, Lisette Model, who finally made it clear to me that the more specific you are, the more general it'll be.''

The Arbuses' professional split was followed in 1959 by a personal one. Diane and the girls moved to a converted stable in the West Village. It was a subtle separation. Allan maintained the fashion photography business under the joint credit. He continued to test Diane's new cameras and to have his assistants develop her film. She printed her photos in his darkroom. He managed their joint finances, and he often came for Sunday breakfast. However, despite the persistence of their bond, the separation and eventual divorce forced -- and liberated -- Diane to step out on her own. ''I always felt that it was our separation that made her a photographer,'' Allan says. ''I couldn't have stood for her going to the places she did. She'd go to bars on the Bowery and to people's houses. I would have been horrified.''

Certainly, Diane was traveling far from the white seamless world of fashion photography. Because so many of her subjects lived on the fringes of polite society, her pictures provoked a controversy that has yet to die down. Most people today who are familiar with the name ''Diane Arbus'' would probably identify her as ''the photographer of freaks.'' This stereotype insulates them from the power of the photographs. Portraits of sideshow freaks constitute a small portion of Arbus's output. On the other hand, it is true that she adored them. ''There's a quality of legend about freaks,'' she told a Newsweek reporter. ''Like a person in a fairy tale who stops you and demands that you answer a riddle.'' She said that she would ''much rather be a fan of freaks than of movie stars, because movie stars get bored with their fans, and freaks really love for someone to pay them honest attention.'' But the word ''freak'' is so vague and charged that it can be misleading. Arbus did not photograph people who were disfigured by calamity -- fire, toxic poisoning, war. She was not a photojournalist like W. Eugene Smith. She did not chase after victims. The pacifist Paul Salstrom once traveled with her to a motel that his aunt managed near Los Angeles. After the aunt agreed to be photographed, Salstrom inquired if Arbus would also like to photograph his uncle, but she declined. ''My uncle had a large growth on the back of his neck,'' Salstrom explains. ''She said, 'I'm not going to ask him, because I feel sorry for him.'''

Arbus regarded circus freaks as ''aristocrats'' and female impersonators as gender-barrier pioneers. To her, there was nothing pathetic or repulsive about them. One of her most famous pictures is ''A Young Brooklyn Family Going for a Sunday Outing, N.Y.C., 1966.'' With teased black hair and heavily outlined eyebrows, the woman is made up to look like Elizabeth Taylor, an aspiration that, inevitably, she has not quite achieved. Her arms are overburdened with a large pocketbook, a camera in its case, a leopard-patterned coat and a big baby girl, and although she is looking straight ahead, she seems preoccupied. Her baby's arms and face are extended forward, as is the honest, open gaze of her husband. The only off-kilter figure in this upstanding group is their son, a mentally retarded boy, his eyes, head and body all askew, his small hand held by his father. Unlike the mother, the father is grasping onto nothing else but his son, whose crooked body fills the gap between the parents. As another photo in ''Revelations'' establishes, Arbus spent some time in this family's home. She later wrote, ''They were undeniably close in a painful sort of way.''

Arbus's choice of subject matter was not especially novel. From the transvestites of Brassaï to the circus dwarf of Bruce Davidson, odd-looking and socially transgressive people have always attracted the attention of photographers. But even when those photographers took you backstage, you still felt that you were at a performance. Arbus went home with her subjects, literally and emotionally. That's why her portraits of a young man in hair curlers or a half-dressed dwarf in bed retain the power to shock. It's not the subjects that unnerve us: her photographs of a middle-class woman in pearls or a pair of twins with headbands can be just as startling. What shocks is the intimacy. ''I don't like to arrange things,'' she said. ''If I stand in front of something, instead of arranging it, I arrange myself.'' When she took a picture, she instinctively found the right place to stand. Her vantage point denied the viewer any protective distance.

Once she parachuted out of fashion photography, Arbus relied on magazine editors for assignments. Her empathetic curiosity and undivided focus -- ''whatever the moment presented, she was in it,'' says her friend Mary Sellers -- made her a remarkable reporter. On a trip Arbus took to Los Angeles in 1964, Robert Brown, who by then was living there, chauffeured her to Mae West's house on two successive days. When he picked her up the first night, she was bubbling with excitement. ''You know what we did most of the time?'' she told him. ''She's got a locked room with models in plaster of all the men she's had sex with -- of their erections.'' Reminiscing about her former lovers, West had waxed rhapsodic: ''Each one is different: the way they sigh, the way they moan, the way they move; even the feel of them, their flesh is just a little different. . . . There's a man for every mood.'' Arbus took it all down for the article she would write. She probably waited until the next day, by which point West would have been completely charmed and relaxed, to take the visual record of the septuagenarian sexpot -- in negligee, backlighted by the merciless Southern California sun. ''Mae West hated the pictures,'' Allan Arbus recalls. ''Because they were truthful.''

A waiflike figure with huge green eyes, a goofy grin and a girlish giggle, Arbus would roam the city, laden down with camera equipment. Her blend of whispery fragility and unstoppable tenacity was very seductive. ''She had this little squeaky voice, completely unarming because she was so childlike and her interest so genuine,'' says the photographer Larry Fink, who observed her working in New York parks. ''So she would hover there and smile and be a little embarrassed, with her Mamiyaflex going. She would wait for people to relax, or to get so tense that they would be the opposite of relaxed, with much the same effect.'' Sandra Reed, the albino sword swallower who is the subject of one of Arbus's most arresting late photographs, recalls Arbus, clad in denim, coming up to her before the circus opened. ''I thought it was someone wanting an autograph,'' Reed says. ''She would get a rapport going between you and her. She asked me how it was to travel around, places I'd seen, things I'd done. She was very relaxed, a very ordinary person. She talked to me about the sword-swallowing, how I did it. We talked for quite some time, an hour, maybe two. She asked me if I would mind to be in full costume, and I said, 'No problem.''' Reed performed her act, and Arbus photographed her. The shoot, Reed thinks, took about 45 minutes.

''People were interested in Diane, just as interested in her as she was in them,'' Szarkowski says. He first met Arbus late in 1962. He had recently succeeded Edward Steichen as director of photography at the Museum of Modern Art, and Arbus was picking up a portfolio of her work that she had dropped off for review. ''It was an accident,'' he says. ''I came out of my office, so my assistant introduced us somewhat embarrassedly. I liked her immediately. She was a person with a very lively intelligence. So the conversation went on, and it got to the point where she asked what I thought of the work.'' Arbus's portfolio consisted mostly of portraits of eccentric New Yorkers that she had done for Harper's Bazaar. Szarkowski remembers telling her: '''I don't find it quite right. It seems to me the photographs don't fit what your intention is.'''

They were grainy 35-millimeter pictures, the sort that photojournalists snapped on the fly. ''Technically, they looked a little bit like Robert Frank, not quite like Bill Klein,'' Szarkowski says. ''I said to her, 'It seems to me what you're interested in is much more permanent, ceremonial, eidetic.''' He then pointed to an anomalous photograph she had taken with a large Rolleiflex camera that produces a more finely detailed, square negative. '''That's what you're looking for; it's like Sander,''' Szarkowski recalls saying to her. ''Maybe it was my North Wisconsin accent. She said, 'Who's Sander?'''

Perhaps it was his twang, or maybe Arbus was momentarily distracted, because she certainly was familiar by then with the work of the great German photographer August Sander. Shrewd as Szarkowski was to recognize the affinity, Sander had been brought to her attention two years earlier by Marvin Israel, who would prove to be the most astute and important champion of Arbus's work. Israel, like Arbus, was a person who thrived on contradictions. He was raised in a well-off New York Jewish family (the money came from a women's-clothing business) but affected a down-at-the-heels bohemian style. A protégé of Alexey Brodovitch, who galvanized American magazine design with the electric energy of the Bauhaus and Russian Constructivism, Israel was art director of Seventeen in the late 50's and then himself became the art director of Brodovitch's baby, Harper's Bazaar. He worked in a dusty, cluttered three-floor studio in the cupola of a building on lower Fifth Avenue, amid the cacophony of birdcalls (a parrot and a caged crow being the loudest) and the barking of a vicious adopted stray mongrel, named Marvin. ''Shut up, Marvin,'' he would bark back.

In late November 1959, a few months after moving into the West Village carriage house, Arbus met Israel, and they became lovers. Their intense friendship and professional collaboration would continue until the end of her life.

Israel gave Arbus a portfolio of Sander photographs from a 1959 issue of the Swiss magazine Du, seeing immediately that Sander was the photographer whose ambition and perspicacity most resembled her own. Sander set himself a monumental task -- ''to see things as they are and not as they should or might be''; by so doing, he thought he could provide a ''physiognomic image of an age.'' In his Teutonic thoroughness and anthropological zeal, Sander was a creature of his place and time; as an artist, however, he transcends those categories. Sander was after clarity. He printed on the shiny smooth paper normally used for technical illustrations, and he ignored the introduction of panchromatic glass plates that would obscure blemishes. He typically spent an hour or more talking with his subject before taking the photograph, and whenever possible, he scheduled the sitting in the subject's home, not in a studio, to capture more of the truth.

In the next generation, Bernd and Hilla Becher took up Sander's typological mania and ran with it. What fascinated Arbus about Sander was the psychological inquiry, which she adopted and pushed as far as she could. Arbus photographed many of the same subjects as Sander (carnival performers, midgets, women in slinky dresses, blind people, twins). Comparing their work is instructive. For example, Sander's portrait of fraternal twins, from 1925, shows a timid, eager-to-please girl and a dour, conventional little boy; you can see, as in embryo, the roles in society that they are preparing to play. In contrast, there is nothing sociological about Arbus's 1967 portrait of identical twin girls in Roselle, N.J. Instead, she has taken a kind of psychological X-ray. The girl on the right smiles angelically and trustingly. The one on the left is slightly off: her eyes are misaligned, her mouth is suspiciously pursed, her stockings are bunched at the knees, even the bobby pins on her white headband have slipped below her eyes. Wearing identical frocks, the girls are standing so close that they seem to be joined in one body, two aspects of the same soul. ''What's left after what one isn't is taken away is what one is,'' Arbus wrote in a notebook in 1959. That aphorism could be the caption to this picture.

Marvin Israel said that when he was at Bazaar, he wanted to assign Arbus to photograph every person in the world. In the early heady days of their affair, when she was peppering Israel with almost daily postcards, Arbus once wrote him that ''everyone today looked remarkable just like out of August Sander pictures, so absolute and immutable down to the last button, feather, tassel or stripe. All odd and splendid as freaks and nobody able to see himself, all of us victims of the especial shape we come in.'' By the time Arbus picked up a camera, the termite-riddled social order of Sander's day had crumbled. She was fascinated by people who were visibly creating their own identities -- cross-dressers, nudists, sideshow performers, tattooed men, the nouveau riche, the movie-star fans -- and by those who were trapped in a uniform that no longer provided any security or comfort. Arbus's friend Adrian Allen, who began her career as an assistant to the legendary Brodovitch, recalls going through the layout of the posthumous monograph that Doon and Israel put together and seeing with shock the image of a woman she had known, seated on a park bench. In her three-strand necklace and helmetlike bouffant hairdo, Arbus's subject seems riven by secret hopelessness. ''I had never seen this woman look like that before,'' Allen says. ''She was always laughing, smiling, covering up what was underneath.'' Somehow, like a dowser of despair, Arbus had picked up the signal of misery. Not long after the picture was taken, the woman in the bouffant hairdo committed suicide.

Because Arbus took her own life, many people assume that she was constantly grim. Actually, she was an enthusiastic woman with a highly honed sense of the absurd, who was afflicted by blasts of bleakness. ''She was a very lively person,'' Szarkowski says. ''She had a very vivacious mind. She was never a depressed person in my presence.'' Allan Arbus, who knew her as well as anyone did, saw a fuller picture. ''I was intensely aware of these violent changes of mood,'' he says. ''There were times when it was just awful, and there were times. . . . '' His expression mimics fizzy exhilaration. Diane preferred receiving confidences to giving them, one reason photography was her natural medium. ''She wanted to contend with something else, not express herself,'' Doon says.

The relationship with Israel was painful for Arbus. Married to Margie Ponce Israel, a brilliant but emotionally troubled artist, he was not as reliably available or emotionally supportive as Arbus wished. ''Diane made no secret of the fact that she was waiting and waiting for Marvin's attention,'' says Elisabeth Sussman, co-curator of the show at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, who has gone through Arbus's journals, letters and date books. Arbus did not talk to most of her friends about Israel. Unusually, the artist Mary Frank knew them both independently. ''A desire to be cared for is a very human instinct,'' Frank says. ''Marvin could not have given Diane that feeling. He was a very complicated person, and interested in his own powers. He was capable of kindness, but then there was this explosive aspect.'' Frank says that she saw Arbus despondent a couple of times, and ''it definitely had to do with Marvin.'' Where Allan gave Diane technical advice and emotional bolstering, Israel excited her to take on new projects and challenges. ''He was always interested in artists pushing as hard as they could toward their own obsessions or perversities,'' says the writer Lawrence Shainberg, who was a close friend.

Like Arbus, Israel loved to explore the seamier precincts of New York. They didn't have to go far. Forty-Second Street was very different then: ''everyone winking and nudging and raising their eyebrows and running their hands through their marcelled hair and I saw one of your seeing blind men and a man like you have told me about with the pale ruined face-that-isn't-there and a thousand lone conspirators,'' Arbus wrote Israel. Some of those trophies appeared publicly when she agreed with much trepidation to be included, along with Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand, in an exhibition, ''New Documents,'' that opened at the Museum of Modern Art in February 1967. Like the contemporaneous ''New Journalists'' in Esquire and New York (Arbus worked for both magazines), the newfangled documentary photographers in this show made the seeing eye a part of the picture. To her relief, Arbus adored the way her work looked hanging in the museum galleries. ''I've been here as many times as I can get here -- I love it,'' she told a reporter. However, her ambivalence about presenting her photographs as art objects remained. In March 1969, in Midtown New York, Lee Witkin opened the first commercially viable gallery devoted to photography. Arbus agreed to let him display some of her pictures, but she declined his offer of a large exhibition. Although she accepted offers to lecture and sold prints to museums, she always voiced her doubts about whether she was ready for this attention.

In the months after the New Documents show, she bristled with new ideas. ''She would have 30 projects at once,'' Allan says. But then she would fall into funks that were harder and harder for her to pull out of. ''She was in so much pain, and really struggling with what the meaning of her life was,'' Mary Sellers says. ''I had never felt her to be as fragile and unsure.''

When the lease came up on the carriage house, Arbus was forced to move, in January 1968, to a less attractive apartment in the East Village. She had had a serious bout of hepatitis two years earlier; in 1968, she suffered a relapse. Maybe most unsettling to her was Allan's decision to move to Los Angeles in June 1969 to pursue an acting career. ''I guess it was oddly enough the finality of Allan leaving (for Calif.) that so shook me,'' she wrote to her friend Carlotta Marshall. ''He had been gone somewhat for a hundred years but suddenly it was no more pretending. This was it. . . . I am learning all over again it seems how to live, how to make a living, how to do what I want and what I don't, all sorts of commonsensical things I have tended to make a big deal about.'' One of the things that she had to learn was how to develop film, because Allan was closing his darkroom. Although she had always made her own prints, she relied on his assistants for processing film. ''It was hard for her to take over this part of photography,'' he says. The technical aspects never appealed to her. ''She was very funny about her cameras,'' he continues. ''If one didn't work, she would put it aside and then pick it up the next day to see if it had gotten better.'' Yet she knew precisely what look she was after, and she would improvise technically to achieve it. In 1965, she began printing her negatives with the black border exposed -- as if to emphasize both that this image was uncropped and thus unaltered, and also (sabotaging its pretensions to truth) that in the end it was only a photograph. ''For me the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture,'' she once said. ''And more complicated.''

In the last two years of her life, she was working on a project that delighted her deeply. Through a relative of Adrian Allen, she obtained permission to photograph at institutions for the severely retarded in New Jersey. These pictures, which Doon posthumously labeled the ''Untitled'' series, represent a sharp departure from Arbus's previous work. Combining flash unpredictably with daylight and catching her subjects on the move, she was relinquishing control and embracing the accidental. She wrote Allan that the photographs ''are very blurred and variable, but some are gorgeous. FINALLY what I've been searching for, and I seem to have discovered sunlight, late afternoon early winter sunlight. It's just marvelous. In general I seem to have perverted your brilliant technique all the way round, bending it over backward you might say till it's JUST like snapshots but better.'' In her notebook, she devoted five pages to individual descriptions of her retarded subjects. Writing to Amy, she explained: ''Some of them are so small that their shoulder would fit right under my arm and I would pat them and their head would fall on my chest. They are the strangest combination of grown-up and child I have ever seen. One lady kept saying over and over: 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry.' After a while one of the staff said, 'That's all right but don't do it again' and she quieted down. . . . I think you'd like them.''

Adrian Allen went to see the photographs in the Westbeth artist-housing complex in the West Village, which is where Arbus moved from East 10th Street in January 1970. ''The whole floor was filled with that project,'' Allen recalls. ''At first I found it kind of awful to look at these people. Then, as I started to look at the larger prints and found how the people connected with her -- they were the sort of people who couldn't connect with anybody, but that quality she had of getting people to let her in, even if they were mad or retarded -- in those pictures, I sensed her presence.'' Allen understood that Arbus's excitement arose from her attachment to her retarded subjects. ''She loved the photographs because they illustrated the connection.'' She had devoted so much energy to getting people to doff their masks. Now, with these mentally impaired people, she found a transparency of expression. Oddly, in many of her most famous photographs of them, they are wearing masks for Halloween.

Sometimes the work would buoy her spirits, but not for long. ''She was always, always both devoted to and loathing of photography,'' Mary Sellers says. ''She was always wondering not was it good enough, but was it true enough.''

In many of her late photographs, she returned to her early practice of capturing people who were unaware of her camera. But the effect was different now. She was a mature artist, and she could find the intimacy she wanted in unexpected ways. So that in ''A Woman Passing, N.Y.C., 1971,'' the determined hunch of the walk, the proudly chic uplift of the hat and the liver-spotted hand gripping the pocketbook make us feel we know this woman as well as if we had read a novel about her. As early as 1967, Diane wrote to Amy: ''I suddenly realized that when I photograph people I don't anymore want them to look at me. (I used nearly always to wait for them to look me in the eye but now it's as if I think I will see them more clearly if they are not watching me watching them.)''

One of the many misperceptions about Arbus is that her work, in its emotional toll and immersion in the ''dark side,'' contributed to a fatal despair. In fact, her work elated her. ''She made it seem like a lark,'' says Michael Flanagan, a friend of hers and Israel's, who worked for a time as Allan's assistant and developed her negatives. ''The pictures were sometimes dark and scary, but she was lighthearted, like it was an adventure for her.'' The doubts and depressions were triggered by other causes, sometimes by a sense of abandonment, at times by an internal biological flux she could neither understand nor control. ''I go up and down a lot,'' she wrote Carlotta Marshall in late 1968. ''Maybe I've always been like that. Partly what happens though is I get filled with energy and joy and I begin lots of things or think about what I want to do and get all breathless with excitement and then quite suddenly either through tiredness or a disappointment or something more mysterious the energy vanishes, leaving me harassed, swamped, distraught, frightened by the very things I thought I was so eager for! I'm sure this is quite classic.'' She went to visit Allan and his new wife, Mariclare Costello, in Los Angeles in the fall of 1970. He remembers that once, while driving in the car, she told him: ''I took a pill before we left and I feel much better. It's all chemical.''

Marshall saw her several times in mid-July 1971, on a visit to New York from Holland, where she now lived. At their last get-together, they stayed up late, talking. ''We talked about suicide and death, but we talked about everything,'' Marshall says. ''I just didn't pay special attention to the fact that she brought it up. It wasn't a morbid discussion.'' On July 26, when Marshall was on a ship heading back to Europe, Allan was acting in a movie in Santa Fe, Doon was working on a book in Paris, Amy was attending summer school in Massachusetts and Israel was weekending with his wife at Avedon's house on Fire Island, Arbus swallowed a number of barbiturates, climbed fully dressed into her bathtub and cut her wrists with a razor blade. Two days later, Israel went to her apartment and found the body.

Arbus was 48 when she died. In the autopsy report, the Medical Examiner's Office left this tantalizing observation: ''Diary suggestive of suicidal intent, taken on July 26th, noted.'' The on-the-scene medical investigator's report refers to a '''Last Supper' note,'' and Lawrence Shainberg, one of three friends whom Israel called to wait with him for the police to arrive, recalls seeing the words ''Last Supper'' written on a page of her open diary. What could she have meant? At the Last Supper, Jesus said that the wine and unleavened bread were his blood and body, containing eternal life -- a black-humor analogy for someone slashing her wrists and gulping fatal tablets. He also said that he would be betrayed by someone very close to him.

Did Arbus leave other clues in her date book? We don't know. The diary page for the 26th, and for the two pages following, have been neatly excised. ''I've stared at that book for I can't say how long,'' says Sussman, the co-curator. That Arbus took secrets with her to the grave is completely in character. She collected other people's mysteries and divulged few of her own. ''I never thought that I knew all her secrets,'' Allan says. (Asked if she knew all of his, he says, ''Probably.'') The diaries, notebooks and letters that are included in the museum retrospective and in ''Revelations'' enable us to come closer to seeing Arbus in the way that she saw her subjects -- with an unexpected, even unsettling, intimacy. Never for a second, however, do we feel that we have exhausted the mystery.