Diane Arbus: At the “New Documents” show at the Museum of Modern Art, in 1967.
Photo Credit: Dan Budnik, 1967
Diane Arbus [born Diane Nemerov; 1923–1971] liked to photograph people who would not ordinarily be photographed, including the outcasts and marginal: the people who resided on the margins of, or were outside of, respectable society. These people were in no way beautiful, not in any conventional sense and certainly not how high fashion photography views beauty.
This desire, on the part of Arbus, to take photos of such people seems all the more remarkable for two reasons: she grew up visibly wealthy, wrapped in the garments of privilege; and she started out in early adulthood as a fashion photographer, working for such magazines as Vogue & Harper’s Bazaar for nearly a decade before exiting this life of unfeeling artifice, aged 33. Then 15 years later, she made a final exit of this world altogether by committing suicide, aged 48.
Yet, during those years she changed photography, and yet was acutely unaware of it. In “Was Diane Arbus the Most Radical Photographer of the 20th Century,” Alex Mar writes for NY Mag:
Diane Arbus would continue numbering her negatives over the next 15 years, up until her suicide at the age of 48. But this first moment of self-awareness, when she confessed to herself that she was an artist, is pivotal to both a new book and a show of her earliest works opening today. “I can’t do it anymore” — that’s how Arthur Lubow’s essential biography, Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer, starts out; the exhibit at the MetBreuer, “diane arbus: in the beginning,” features about 70 never-before-seen prints, the experiments that immediately followed “#1.” Together, these go a long way toward making whole an artist who’s long been distorted by a cult of personality.
By the late ’60s, Diane would become renowned for her striking, often confrontational black-and-white images of outsiders, from cross-dressers to drag performers to circus “freaks.” She gave a human dimension to extravagant individuals living on the fringe, while her photos of American families, children, and socialites had an undeniably dark tenor — she flipped the social balance, as if the entire country had gone through the looking glass. With her sudden death in 1971, she became one of the best-known American photographers in history — and one of the most controversial.If she (or more so, her photos) were viewed as controversial, it is because her curiosity of people and the lives they lived was in a large sense about the desire for experience, for understanding of the larger questions. As is common with artists with a sensitive nature, she was also conflicted—yet, after so many years of internal conflict, she could no longer hold it together. In so many ways, she was the outsider, a photographer who could momentarily win the trust of people and take personal photos, often intimate.
Perhaps, she had no choice and she was fated to live as she did, seeking out to understand and portray the inner lives of people who were supposedly miserable, the kind that she was not supposed to have known in her formative years, where she was protected from the realities that so many others faced. The hard-edged unpretty realities that also, at times, contain hints of love in some form. This is all speculation on my part, but speculation based on hard-fought life experience. One could say that Arbus/Nemerov sought out in adulthood what was denied her in childhood, the foundational truths of life itself.
For more, go to [NYMag]