i've been thinking a lot lately about diane arbus- after recalling that rather long ago gay pride nyc afternoon outside the artist's residence in which she lived and in which she took her own life. when i was in college i read patricia bosworth's arbus biography-http://amzn.com/0393312070- and it made me- even though the executor of the photographers estate , diane's daughter doon, highly disapproved and did not allow for the inclusion of any of her mother's works-buy a 35 mm camera. highly criticized in her day as being the taker of invasive, lurid snapshots and as a woman who didn't understand, of course, the technology, even a cursory look at her often haunting work tells an entirely different story. diane arbus was a genuis.
the content of her work shows how heavily involved she became with her subjects- you can feel her actively thrusting them apart from their shells . she agonized over obtaining releases from people. long after having photographed people she maintained relationships with them that did not necessarily involve taking their pictures- and this included the many freak show performers , transexuals and assorted street people she opted to focus upon. exactly how involved she was with her subjects has long been a question. doon pretty much clamped down on her mother's oeuvre- not even allowing selections to be included in scholarly articles which is an oddity in the art world. in the recently released revelations- http://amzn.com/0375506209 - she opens up the flood gates- sort of- and includes unpublished works, contact sheets and her mother's hand written notes( and a gruesome coroner's report of all things.)still stating, and i tend to concur in spirit with her, that she has held back in the past to protect her mother's works and the people in her photographs and , more importantly, that the photographs should speak for themselves.
and they do. volumes. in one contact sheet from the 50s, a nude woman is seen on a couch with a black man. in the middle of the spread of shots diane herself appears completely naked stretched across the man's lap. that this was highly um unusual for a white woman to do let alone record or acknowledge in any manner goes without saying. from the tone of her art and her lifestyle i always unconsciously put arbus within the confines of my mother's generation( born circa 1940) when actually she was born only 3 years after my grandmother- a member of the ' greatest generation' (born late teens, early 1920s). by the late 60's, a photo for a sunday supplement arbus took of a black boy and a white girl holding hands in a fashion shoot she meant for the cover was not even published. she was so very ahead and her empathy for her subjects and genuine involvement with them is both disturbing and touching as in our own interactions with the world. in the end photographs by someone as talented as arbus reveal not just the subject but the viewer as well. one wonders about the effect of this on arbus herself who suffered from depression lifelong and of course because she took her own life in 1971.
if you are unaware of her work it's a shame because it's powerful, beautiful stuff. all three of her monographs are still available. a google image search will churn up some of her most famous images like boy with grenade and twins. revelations has many of her most famous photos and her own commentary including bitching about the discontinuation of the only brand of film( a long gone german make) she felt gave her the results she strived for. i doubt too many people will be longing for the often greenish tinges of kodachrome.