Looking for Diane Arbus

Looking 1 by lemon hound
Looking 1, a photo by lemon hound on Flickr.

Briefly I suppose because despite her dual giantess status in both feminist and photography worlds, I’m still not sure what to say about her. The prolific photographer worked extensively in the 50s and 60s, publishing in Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar, showing her work sporadically before committing suicide in 1971. Her work, as I mentioned after seeing her show at the Met, is almost overly familiar, posted on fridge doors and in dorm rooms: the Manhattan women, the lipstick and high hats, the Peurto Ricans on the street, the hopeful, and fulsome bodies of New Yorkers parading past her lens, all of this seems woven with seminal New York City images of that era. But her body of work, concerned largely with the carnevalesque: twins, and outsiders, transvestites, dwarfs, giants, people with Down’s syndrome, resists any kind of assessment, fails in some way to convince me of any authenticity…of what? Experience? Art? Intention? I’m not sure, and I’m not sure that it’s even a fair criticism, but it’s where I am with Arbus. What are we to make of all these faces, similarly blank and otherworldly in expression, like short confessional narrative poems with their minute, repetitive and ultimately cloyingly assuring endings. We are all the same, we are all of us freaks, I am you, you am I, and so on, and yes, in theory, yes.
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