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Curious Frame - Issue #37 - On Beauty

Curious Frame
Curious Frame - Issue #37 - On Beauty
By Leanne Staples • Issue #37 • View online
While we can likely assume that the pursuit of love and truth are universal, the way that individuals define these concepts vary in many ways.
In the same respect, beauty is as the saying goes, in the eye of the beholder. So it’s easy to overlook the idea of beauty beyond the realm of fashion and other superficial uses that we see everyday and all of the time.
However, I think that our definitions of truth and love include beauty and that when we take or view photos, we are actually searching for a certain kind of beauty on many levels.
So here is my attempt to begin to explore the topic of beauty in photography. For some people it will be an exotic landscape, for others it may be of a beautiful person or perhaps it might be photos from another time.
What does beauty in photography mean to you? Curious Frame is curious about your thoughts as well.

Curious Questions:
Two issues back, I requested as a method of trying out something different that you provide a response to the question below. 
I received 5 responses so far and they are all very different from each other. I will be using them in upcoming issues of the newsletter and I’m hoping that more people will respond. 
It’s fun and easy and there are no right or wrong answers and there’s only one question:
What are 3 words, possibly adjectives, that you would use to describe photography. What you think of it, what you like about it, whatever. Three words!
Readers Comments:
Oh no, no comments from the previous newsletter. Don’t keep those thoughts to yourself. Curious Frame is about dialogue and I’d love to hear your comments or even questions or inspirations. And it’s easy. Just hit reply in your email.
Your opinions are valued. No advanced degrees or education required.
On Beauty
Marilyn in LES, New York City, January 2019. Street art by The Postman.
Marilyn in LES, New York City, January 2019. Street art by The Postman.
Beauty is truth, truth is beauty. John Keats, 1820.
Beauty is mysterious. There is something under the surface. It is more than a facade. We are compelled to look deeply at beauty. There is a quality to beauty that we can’t quite grasp.
Perhaps that is part of the saying that beauty is only skin deep. It grows on us. It draws us in. And of course, the artist works their magic with a camera or even a paint brush to reveal the inner beauty. That’s the poetry of photography.
While a photo is merely a reproduction of something, some photos have the ability to take us by surprise. We are able to imagine it to be more than a flat image.
The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli, circa mid 1480s.
The Birth of Venus, Sandro Botticelli, circa mid 1480s.
Venus (or Aphrodite) is the goddess of both love and beauty. Botticelli’s image of Venus portrays the mythological story of her birth which is meant to illustrate not only her physical beauty but also a beauty that is not visible. She is the embodiment of beauty.
Botticelli 's The Birth of Venus illustrating the Golden Ratio.
Botticelli 's The Birth of Venus illustrating the Golden Ratio.
Botticelli, like Da Vinci utilized the Golden Ratio in his paintings. For many, the Golden Ratio (also called Divine Proportion) which is a mathematical equation, is seen as a form of beauty. Da Vinci was also a mathematician. As photographers we would call this the rule of thirds.
Therefore, Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus represents beauty in two methods. It is also one of the most identifiable paintings in the world. And, on a side note, we get to see it here because of photography. (Smile.)
Mathematics, rightly viewed, possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty—a beauty cold and austere, like that of sculpture, without appeal to any part of our weaker nature, without the gorgeous trappings of painting or music, yet sublimely pure, and capable of a stern perfection such as only the greatest art can show. Bertrand Russell
That’s right, there is beauty in mathematics. Or so I’ve read. But not being well versed in advanced math, I’ll take their word for it. It is my understanding that the Fibonacci sequence as well as the ability to recite Pi π beyond a certain length is also a form of beauty.
Michelle Pfeiffer on the cover of 1990 People Magazine most beautiful people.
Michelle Pfeiffer on the cover of 1990 People Magazine most beautiful people.
There is something rather odd about how much of an emphasis is placed on the idea of beauty in a purely physical sense. While physical beauty has always been something important to humanity from the beginning of time, photography has taken it to new levels.
You can call me cynical or even suspicious, but have you ever seen an attractive criminal? We look at photos of beautiful people and equate them with all kinds of good qualities.
Being ‘beautiful’ is the luck or accident of birth. It says nothing of who a person is. And some of the so-called beautiful people without makeup, lighting etc. maybe aren’t all that beautiful. Maybe they’re more like common people.
Beauty causes us to make a leap from a purely physical image to one that is also of trust (Truth) and goodness even when the reason for all these photos of beautiful people are first and foremost to sell us something.
Greta Garbo
Greta Garbo
I thought of something so beautiful that I couldn’t even understand it. And I ended up forgetting what it was. Clarice Lispector, A Breath of Life.
Greta Garbo was once thought of as the most beautiful woman in the world. She was a recluse and little is known about her private life which she worked to her advantage.
Beauty is more often revealed in nuance whether it is visually and/or emotionally. When a photograph gives an impression that there’s more than what can be seen on the surface, that is by itself a form of beauty.
Unlike pretty or cute, beauty will often have layers of meaning. Of course, everything about Garbo was orchestrated for us to be attracted to her mysterious beauty.
Vintage Chanel No. 5 perfume ad
Vintage Chanel No. 5 perfume ad
Everything has its beauty, but not everyone sees it. Confucius 
It is certain that the fashion industry owes much to photography. But the thing that I find most mysterious is the idea of selling fragrances through photos.
You see a photo of a beautiful woman leading what appears to be a rather glamorous life because she wears a particular perfume. Obviously it is working quite well for perfume companies as there are no lack of perfume ads with beautiful models promoting them.
AND, the advertising is in large part why perfume is so expensive. That is to say, we are paying for those expensive ads. Have you picked up a copy of Vogue Magazine recently? I believe that the current ad to copy ratio is about 75%. That’s three quarters of the magazine is advertising!!! Is that crazy???
But it would seem that we fall for these ads anyway even though we know that we aren’t going to look like or live the kind of life depicted in these ads. Yes, we are searching for beauty in our lives even when we know that seeing isn’t believing.
Female impersonator holding long gloves, Hempstead, L.I. 1959Purchase, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, 2015 Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York/Copyright © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Female impersonator holding long gloves, Hempstead, L.I. 1959Purchase, Joyce F. Menschel Gift, 2015 Courtesy The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York/Copyright © The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats. Diane Arbus
What is the opposite of beauty? We know that beauty is not the same thing for each person. Diane Arbus began as a very successful fashion photographer with her husband Allan. She grew tired of it.
Arbus admitted that she came from a very privileged world of money and was living in a safe bubble. She was attracted to learning about the world beyond the safety zone. It became her mission.
While I can’t say for certain that she ever used the word beautiful to describe the outsiders and freaks that she photographed, but she did say that they were aristocrats.
To have moved from the world of shooting glamor to shooting freaks, I think that she was searching to capture a different kind of beauty.
Irving Penn
Irving Penn
Beauty is no quality in things themselves. It exists merely in the mind which contemplates them. David Hume, 1757.
While it is possible to have fashion photography and beauty cross that boundary into art, it isn’t nearly as common. Irving Penn didn’t even consider himself to be a fashion photographer. Perhaps that’s part of why his photos stand out.
The overabundance of glamorous photos geared towards fashion, cosmetics, exercise and even pharmaceuticals, is pushing people towards having unrealistic ideas of how they should look. It has created many eating disorders as well as other psychological disorders.
Repeatedly seeing photos of people who don’t represent the average person will likely continue to be problematic and influence our ideas about what beauty is. As if we can choose to identify with the dreams of commercials.
William Eggleston, The Outlands, Volume 3. Steidl.
William Eggleston, The Outlands, Volume 3. Steidl.
So beauty in photography comes in many forms. Some of them are nostalgic, like the incredible photography of William Eggleston. His photos depict an era in American history that is gone. Many photographers would like to recreate those days.
I mention Eggleston here because I just received the latest issue of Steidl Magazine. In case you haven’t heard of Gerhard Steidl, he is the man behind some of the best photography books ever.
A few photographers that he has published are Robert Frank, Saul Leiter, Duane Michals, Garry Winogrand and Nan Goldin to name only a few. These are the kinds of photography that we can call representations of beauty in some form another.
I do love books and Steidl’s books are gorgeous. Have a look at his site and if you can, check out the documentary made about him and the photographers that he’s worked with.
My daughter
My daughter
So I’ll leave you with a photo that I find beautiful for very personal reasons. It’s my daughter and I took the photo! Not exactly an objective reason. But is beauty ever objective?
Philosophers and other learned individuals throughout history have tried to come up with purely objective criteria for defining beauty. I’m not certain that we even need to believe in them any more than to think that a photo is only good if we apply the rules of composition.
I would love to hear about what your definition is in photography for beauty. Are there particular photographers or photos that you think really represent beauty on a deeper level? Thanks for being curious with me
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Further Viewing:
I’ve come to like Alex’s videos. I haven’t heard of Oberholzer before and I’m not certain that I can say that I really like most of his photos. But Alex’s message is what’s important. Beauty can also be fun.
Your Face WILL Light Up -The Curious Photos Of Obie Oberholzer / These Images Reveal The Joy Of Life
You can also find me at:
Artist, Photographer & Writer - Leanne Staples
Shop for Art, Zines & Publications - Leanne Staples
Walking Photo Tours & Street Photography Workshops in New York City
Did you enjoy this issue?
Leanne Staples

In a world that is overpopulated with images, Curious Frame is where I share my thoughts on photography. It is always about ‘seeing with new eyes’.

I’m Leanne Staples, a photographer, artist, and writer living in New York City. Street photography and lens-based art are my passions, and Curious Frame is where I’ll be sharing my thoughts on these passions.

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