Assignment 2: Diane Arbus’ Work – 150 MC

Diane ArbusDiane Arbus – “Photographer of Freaks”

So Arbus didn’t start taking pictures of freaks or nudist straight away. Rather, with her husband Allan, she started off in the magazine industry. And her work was that you would normally see in a magazine. Her prints were mainly focused on large events which many a people participating, but having close up portraits of these people. But there was also more simple portraits of celebrities at the time, such as the three pictures tomorrow.

DA Mag p74 [1]

DA Mag p78[2]

DA Mag p110 [3]

But even with these pictures, Arbus was still quite unknown in the photography community. And even today her magazine work isn’t looked on as much as her main work, which is interesting as I feel her magazine work was the basis for her later work. Why? Even in these large events, Arbus was more focused on those that weren’t part of the norm.

Diane 1[4]

So she started to produce pieces of work like this. And when this piece was released, the public initially thought it was just a normal picture of a woman. But when they saw the title, it caused a stir because it was so unusual from what everyone was used to seeing. It was so far out it led to one man apparently spitting on this piece of work whilst it was hanging up. Very strange no?

Diane 7 [5]

But the fact is Arbus didn’t just barge in to take these pictures of the ‘freaks.’ Rather, she spent a while getting used to these people to build up a personal friendship with everyone. She wanted to know them for who they were, and not for what the picture was portraying. And in the end, these pictures ended up being a true portrayal of everyone.

Diane 6 [6]

It was the same for the nudist camps as well. Arbus didn’t barge into these places. Rather, she asked permission if she could venture into these hidden places to meet the people. And it was only after talking to everyone and meeting them was that she photographed them.
But what is interesting is families or people would keep this sort of thing to themselves. They would hardly tell anyone at all, and it would have to someone close to them that they could trust before revealing a secret like this. But why the secrecy? It’s probably because the fear of being seen in a place like this would cast them as an “outcast” in society. And this might have been too much of a pressure for them to handle, as it could result of them being hushed away and seen in the shadows.

Diane 5[7]Diane 3 [8]

But what I think is also interesting is how she takes the pictures. Like I said earlier on, the pictures are a truth for the subject. And those viewing these pictures would probably build up an first image and thoughts of this person, which would be hard to shift.
But it’s interesting to think what would we think if in the two above pictures, then men were dressed in normal clothes. Clothes we see people in society on a day-to-day basis. If that was the case, then we wouldn’t know the truth, but rather just see them as normal people.
So it’s this clever switch of things makes the pictures stand out more. A normal person in a normal pose, but there is something out of the ordinary that we get rid of the idea of “normal.”

Diane 2 [9]

And I think finally what Arbus tries to show is how much we value perfection in the world. In more of her pictures of “freaks” and “nudist” there are so many things happening , it completely different. And those viewing the pictures would be the one that would go to a circus to see these people and enjoy themselves. Yet they would probably think “aren’t I lucky not to be in the same situation as them.” And what I think Arbus might have been trying to do is bring this truth in front of us so that we can’t ignore it: how we all want to be perfect, and are horrified by being classed as different from everyone else.

Arbus’ work was completely different from what was being shown at the time, she was pushing the boundaries with photography. But I think she really did change the way photography is today. To the extent that “exploitation” of subjects is more welcomed in our society today.

[1] Arbus, D, ‘James Brown is out of sight’ Diane Arbus Magazine Work 1984 p.g. 74
[2] Arbus, D, ‘Gerald Malanga’ Diane Arbus Magazine Work 1984 p.g.78
[3] Arbus, D, ‘Eugene McCarthy’ Diane Arbus Magazine Work 1984 p.g. 110
[4] Arbus, D, ‘A young man in curlers at home on West 20th Street, N.Y.C, 1966’, Revelations 2003-06, pg. 47
[5] Arbus, D, ‘Mexican dwarf in his hotel room in N.Y.C, 1970’, Untitled 1995
[6] Arbus, D, ‘A family one evening in a nudist camp, Pa, 1965’, Revelations 2003-06, pg. 295
[7] Arbus, D, ‘Hermaphrodite and a dog in a carnival trailer, Md, 1970’, Untitled 1995
[8] Arbus, D, ‘Seated man in a bra and stockings, N.Y.C, 1985’, Revelations 2003-06, pg. 98
[9] Arbus, D, ‘A naked man being a woman, N.Y.C, 1965’, Revelations 2003-06, pg. 98


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