“Behold, Diana is drawing her bow, aiming at the man far away down the hallway.” In one of the photographs called Diana from “New York, 1949” series, Elliot Erwitt banters with mild humor as usual, setting us all behind Augustus Saint-Gaudens’s bronze sculpture of a nude Diana. This time, he allows us to see and feel the world from the perspective that Diana owns.
Good at depicting an absurd situation within the everyday setting, Erwitt shows this “decisive moment” with a sense of connection between Diana and the real man in a museum. The arrow, at first, is the most obvious thing seemingly to connect them: it has “potential” to frame the man, as its trajectory, along with the linear perspective of composition, points exactly to the body of this man. This kind of combination furthers the connection between the fantasy and reality. Diana, known as the virginal huntress in classical mythology, makes men fall prey to their lust. Even the visitors to the modern museum are no exception. What is more, by framing Diana and the man in the same space through several doors, the effect of foreshortening is also achieved: the man seems much tinier and forceless compared with Diana. Interestingly, having this piece of photography placed in a museum, the work itself shot at a museum is framed by another museum as well.
Always stressing that the instinct to create great photography is casual and unstaged, Erwitt takes most of the photographs in common daily settings. But as talented and intelligent as he is, he also employs his unique sense of humor and irony in these mundane settings in thought-provoking ways. Here, besides creating the several dimensions of framing, Erwitt has chosen to give us a view from behind Diana. So right now, maybe we can also feel the loneliness of Diana, or hear the sigh from Erwitt, who knows that ultimately this Diana is not real, and that it is only through his photographer’s sleight of hand that she appears in this instant poised to transfix her target with an arrow. Viewed from any other perspective, she is once again a museum piece. She is stiff and isolated, and her arrow is never released. Her target will walk past her, unaware of how hard she has tried.
By Yuanyuan Tang, Class of 2016