Monday, July 20, 2009


To D- Dead by Her Own Hand
My dear, I wonder if before the end
You ever thought about a children's game-
I'm sure you must have played it too - in which
You ran along a narrow garden wall
Pretending it to be a mountain ledge
So steep a snowy darkness fell away
On either side to deeps invisible;
And when you felt your balance being lost
You jumped because you feared to fall, and thought
For only an instant: That was when I died.

That was a life ago. And now you've gone,
Who would no longer play the grown-ups' game
Where, balanced on the ledge above the dark,
You go on running and you don't look down
Nor ever jump because you fear to fall.

-Howard Nemerov (Diane Arbus' brother)

family portraits by diane arbus

Dad's portrait clearly didn't interest Diane as much as his daughter's did.

family portraits by walker evans and diane arbus

The stark living conditions evident in Walker Evans' portraits of impoverished white tenant farmers in the 1930s resemble Arbus' photo of Robert Evans' African-American family taken thirty years later.

family portraits by august sander and diane arbus

diane arbus: family albums

Back in New York that fall, the Forsts, the Arbuses, the Franks, and several other couples continued to see one another: in the Village, at screenings of underground movies, at Happenings - the rage of the late fifties. Between the couples...the unspoken competition was 'ferocious,' Barbara Forst says, 'The men in our group sensed the women were as talented as they were - in some cases sensed that the women were as talented as they were- in some cases maybe more so...they were threatened by that and by our productivity, and they demeaned us and made us feel insecure. We were like handmaidens to our men - mothering, accommodating, putting off and in some cases putting down our own work- sometimes even hiding or destroying it.' Whenever the women met for coffee, they would tell anecdotes about the men in their lives- their husbands, lovers, casual pick-ups, old boyfriends. None of the women was a feminist- certainly Diane wasn't; they never used that word. -Patricia Bosworth 'Diane Arbus'

Sunday, July 19, 2009

diane arbus

Halfway through the Patricia Bosworth biography of Diane Arbus and the book is finally getting interesting (the first half was an unsatisfying, sketchy portrait drawn by acquaintances. I imagined Diane's horror at the thought of a biography told through the mouths of her elementary school teachers and assistants whom she never saw socially). In the section titled "The Dark World," Diane has shed her twin/husband and career as a fashion photographer; she now spends her nights stalking the back alleys of New York in search of interesting faces, fueled by the desire to train her lens on what would terrify and propel her. She's becoming obsessed with Coney Island sideshows and the movie "Freaks." Does her identity as a rich girl (daughter of the owner of the Russeks department store chain) stunned and horrified by her subjects push her work toward the realm of the exploitative?

I hadn't seen much of Arbus' work from this period so I was excited to get my hands on two books with beautiful images of her work: Diane Arbus: Family Albums and Revelations. I'd recommend Revelations over the Bosworth book as an Arbus compendium. In addition to over 300 pages of stunning images of her work, personal photographs, letters and excerpts from her journal, there is a complete chronology of her life and work, including incredible photos, written by Doon Arbus (Diane's daughter).