Archived posting to the Leica Users Group, 2009/05/18

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Subject: [Leica] Arbus revisited
From: robertmeier at (Robert Meier)
Date: Mon, 18 May 2009 09:33:33 -0500 (CDT)
References: <> <> <> <>

Elsa Dorfman (born April 26, 1937) is a portrait photographer who  
works in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She is now known for her use of a  
Polaroid 20 by 24 inch camera (one of only 6 in existence, according  
to her web site FAQ,[1] from which she creates large prints. She has  
photographed famous writers, poets, and musicians including Bob Dylan.

Her principal published work, originally published in 1974 and out of  
print but now available on her web site, is Elsa's Housebook - A  
Woman's Photojournal,[2] a photographic record of family and friends  
who visited her at 19 Flagg Street in Cambridge when she lived there  
during the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many famous people, especially  
literary figures associated with the Beat generation, were in her  
circle of acquaintance and as a result are prominent in the book,  
including Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg and Peter Orlovsky,  
Gary Snyder, Gregory Corso, and Robert Creeley, in addition to people  
who would become notable in other fields, such as radical feminist  
Andrea Dworkin and civil rights lawyer and Foundation for Individual  
Rights in Education co-founder Harvey A. Silverglate (who would  
become Dorfman's husband). She has also photographed staples of the  
Boston rock scene such as Jonathan Richman frontman of The Modern  
Lovers, and Stephen Tyler of Aerosmith.
Portrait of Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg, 1975.

As Dorfman explains in her Housebook,[3] she moved to New York City  
in 1959 and found a job as a secretary to the editors at Grove Press,  
a leading Beat publisher. When she later moved home to Cambridge to  
pursue her master's degree, she called herself the "Paterson Society"  
and began arranging readings for many Beat authors who had become  
friends, maintaining an active correspondence with them as they  
traveled the world. By 1962, she was teaching fifth grade; poet Paul  
Blackburn visited her in school one day and read to the children "to  
the shock of the very straight principal." A year later, in 1963,  
Dorfman began working for the Educational Development Corporation  
whose photographer, George Cope, introduced her to photography in  
June 1965. She made her first sale two months later, in August 1965,  
for $25 of a photograph of Charles Olson which was used on the cover  
of his book The Human Universe. Due to economic limitations, she did  
not buy her own camera until 1967, when she sent a check for $150 to  
Philip Whalen who was then in Kyoto, Japan, and he in turn enlisted  
Gary Snyder, who could speak Japanese, to purchase the camera and  
mail it to her. In May 1968, she moved into the Flagg Street house  
which would become the basis of her Housebook.
On May 18, 2009, at 8:41 AM, charcot wrote:

> Robert - who is Elsa Dorfman?
> ernie
> On May 17, 2009, at 10:30 PM, Robert Meier wrote:
>> From a review of Bosworth's biography by Elsa Dorfman:
>> The book abounds in what I suspect is improvisation, hearsay and  
>> undocumented speculation. The standards of language and accuracy  
>> (let alone interpretation) are very low.
>> Bosworth keeps on reminding us that Arbus was only interested in  
>> the aberration, off-beat sexual practices, tortured sexual  
>> identities, and physical and mental deformities of her subjects.  
>> She suggests that Arbus was purposely exploitative and  
>> sensationalistic. Ironically, this is precisely Bosworth's own  
>> approach to her subject. She is obsessed with real and imagined  
>> aberration, speculates about what she considers offbeat sexual  
>> practices, imagines tortured sexual conflicts...Diane Arbus eludes  
>> Bosworth completely.
>> The interesting questions are left unasked, let alone, unanswered:  
>> How did this woman, brought up in the most constricting,  
>> conventional environment, come to have such a unique personal  
>> vision in which style and subject-matter were perfectly matched?  
>> How did she produce so much valuable work in just eleven years?  
>> Why was she so insecure and uncomfortable with her talent? Was her  
>> insecurity and lack of self-esteem (as reported, I suspect  
>> accurately, by Studs Terkel) related to her narrow, ungenerous  
>> vision? Was she afraid of her own success? And finally, why did  
>> she, like Sylvia Plath before her in 1963, end her life?
>> On May 17, 2009, at 5:43 PM, Charcot wrote:
>>> Robert - if you come up with the discredited parts or Bosworth  
>>> let us know.  I read it and assume that it's true so anything you  
>>> come up with I'd be interested.
>>> ernie nitka
>>> On May 17, 2009, at 3:13 PM, <photo.forrest at> wrote:
>>>> That's what I was going to say, why does it really matter what  
>>>> cameras she used? Contax, Nikon, Leica, Mamiya, whatever. She's  
>>>> Diane Arbus and her images are some of the most beautiful ever  
>>>> made. She could have used a Diana & they would have been just as  
>>>> powerful. Its just a box with a hole on one side and a recording  
>>>> medium on the other.
>>>> Phil Forrest
>>>> -----Original Message-----
>>>> From:  Michiel Fokkema <michiel.fokkema at>
>>>> Subj:  Re: [Leica] Arbus revisited
>>>> Date:  Sun 17 May 2009 4:59 pm
>>>> Size:  1K
>>>> To:  Leica Users Group <lug at>
>>>> Who cares? Why a keypoint?
>>>> It's the image that counts.
>>>> Cheers,
>>>> Michiel Fokkema
>>>> Robert Meier wrote:
>>>>> I think Bosworth's biography has been discredited on many key  
>>>>> points,
>>>>> but I don't know the details.  Needless to say, whether she  
>>>>> used a Leica
>>>>> or not would be a very key point.
>>>>> On May 17, 2009, at 2:21 PM, Tina Manley wrote:
>>>>>> At 03:00 PM 5/17/2009, you wrote:
>>>>>>> Found this on photo net:
>>>>>>> "
>>>>>>> Diane Arbus never used a Leica for her work.
>>>>>>> The guy gives off the air of knowing what he's talking about.
>>>>>>> I mean when you get that specific....
>>>>>>> Mark William Rabiner
>>>>>> From her biography by Patricia Bosworth:
>>>>>> page 108 ?hated the big 8 x 10 camera; she preferred the Leica.
>>>>>> page 124 ?anyway-she always had a camera, usually a Leica, in?
>>>>>> page 127 She would still record the sessions with her Leica for?
>>>>>> page 195 ? Leica for years, but in 1962 she changed to a Rolleif?
>>>>>> page 231 ?cameras. She still missed the lightness of her Leica,?
>>>>>> page 246 ... D I A N E A R B U S novative work with a Leica  
>>>>>> (that sm?
>>>>>> Searched on Amazon.
>>>>>> Tina
>>>>>> Tina Manley
>>>>>> _______________________________________________
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Replies: Reply from charcot at (charcot) ([Leica] Arbus revisited)
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