Friday, November 19, 2010

Diane Arbus

Arbus was a photographer from the 1940’s to the 60’s.

She came to be known as “The Photographer of Freaks” due to her, sometimes controversial, subject matter of dwarfs, giants, transvestites,nudist, and circus performers.

Her work inspires me because not only do I love her portraits, but also I’m attracted to the sense of honesty and truth in her images. The subjects are not acting like something they aren’t, they are not shown in an unrealistic way, they are portrayed as honest portraits and come across as somewhat shocking, and abrupt imagery. I enjoy the truth that comes through, especially when I have to look twice at the image, or when the image instantly conveys an emotion.

Arbus chose to use black and white photography for her work. I really feel like this takes them a step away from reality while still being understood as the truth. If they were in color some of the images might be to shocking to look at, and the black and white takes us away from the bluntness of some of the subject matter. (for example see image 1)

Sadly Arbus took her own life due to struggles with depression in 1971.* The next year she became the first photographer to have photographs displayed in Venice Biennale*. (Fun fact: There is a fictional movie about Arbus titled Fur, and Nic

ole Kidman played Arbus.)

Arbus’ work now sells at auction for hundreds of thousands of dollars. For example her image Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park sold for $408,000* in 2005. Her work continues to be an inspiration to me, and I can only hope that one day maybe my work will sell for that much. Wouldn’t that be great… I could get another MINI. :)

Image 1: "leafed" see original work

· some information taken from:

· Images taken from:


Earl Grey said...

Kelsey, What do you think about the possibility that, because she focused on marginalized populations, she in turn may have "used" or "manipulated" them? Also, what are your thoughts on her privileged position? She was from a very wealthy, established New York family -- very different from the class of individuals she often portrayed.

Check out this video clip that begins with Diane Arbus' daughter's reflections:

Prof. Darrell Kincer said...

I have strong reservations related to the idea that her photographs were "honest" and "truthful." What makes her work so controversial, and perhaps in part well known, was the fact that she took many of her subjects out of context and presented a great deal of them in an unflattering or altered reality. Take for example the image you use at the beginning of this post of the child in Central Park. She photographed him until he became so frustrated with Arbus that he reacted in the manner she captured and later presented. If it is "truth," it is very selective "truth" indeed.

And if I'm correct, perhaps the main reason she shot in black and white is that Kodak's Kodachrome color film didn't become popular until the 1960's. She may have shot B&W out of pure availability.