- Paperback: 366 pages
- Publisher: W W Norton & Co Inc (February 1995)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0393312070
- ISBN-13: 978-0393312072
- Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 51 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #5,826,343 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Paperback – February, 1995
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Personally I found Arbus to be unlikeable and, in many ways, unpleasant. I think Bosworth respected her subject as an artist. I liked the fact that the focus is on Arbus' life and work, rather than the more technical aspects of photography.
Is this an accurate portrayal of this artist? I don't know since I don't have any knowledge of Arbus other than this book. It is possible Arbus or photography buffs could find fault.
Is it a good book? Yes, it's well written, well researched and a terrific, if tragic, story
My recommendation: If you want to read a well written, authoritative book about Diane Arbus, or just want to read an interesting biography , you'll enjoy this book.
Reading about a person who had a chemical imbalance is kind of pointless, I'm beginning to think. I can never understand such bizarre minds. As a teenager, Diane frequently stripped and masturbated in front of a window while she knew she was being peeped -- or at least she said so, but even if it isn't true, saying so is enough. She demanded everything of herself and her talent but she wouldn't do a book or an exhibition presumably because it would be the end in some way, and she turned down a very lucrative film offer because she felt she wasn't up to the job. She was depressed over her last series of photographs of mentally retarded adults because she couldn't control the subjects or the images. Well, why didn't she move on to other subjects? She had had a bad reaction to one type of anti-depressants in combination with the Pill, so she wouldn't try any other anti-depressants with or without the Pill. Then she killed herself.
As for her art, I'm not sure I understand her claim that she was not being exploitative or sensationalistic in her photos of circus freaks, transsexuals, and nudists. "It's about love," Diane said about a series she was doing for Time-Life. Did that series include "normal" people such as the Westchester family in their back yard, the famous twins, the Puerto Rican woman with a birthmark, the woman with pearl earrings and a hat, the Jewish couple dancing, the best friends, the lady bartender, etc? I wish author Bosworth had spent a chapter on that "love" rather than a single sentence. An exploration of Arbus's feelings about the human condition rather than her feelings about art itself might have yielded much more insight, including an explanation of why she killed herself. Despair over human fragility and vulnerability? Over some cosmic irony that hangs over all of us?
Maybe Arbus is simply too elusive for any biographer. Bosworth drops a lot of names and gets Arbus's contemporaries and friends to talk, but a lot of them are self-conscious blowhards whose descriptions were confusing and therefore forgettable. I have the feeling that if Bosworth had managed to get one or two friends with tons of insight and an ability to speak plainly -- maybe Dick Avedon and Allan Arbus, perhaps Amy Arbus as well -- this would have been a more rewarding read. Or perhaps Bosworth should have just written from the perspective that Arbus was weird and impenetrable and taken us into her life with the plain caveat that we can only watch, not understand.
Anyway, I didn't much like it. Until someone writes a book about that sentence, "It's about love," Arbus is for me yet another artist who's sufficiently known by a wiki article and collections of her work. (Same thing happened to me with Lee Krasner and Frida Kahlo, biographies I also read and reviewed here).
Onto Georgia O'Keeffe, Artemisia Gentilleschi, and Grandma Moses!
It was very enjoyable for me to learn about Arbus' relationships with her family members and photographer friends.
And, learning about her process in creating photographs, and her relationships with the people she photographs, is extremely interesting.
If there is a down side to the book, it is that it is pretty well factual, with very good and close sources, but the book starts to fade when the author explores Diane's later years. Was this woman, born into a family where depression had been discovered in her mother really depressed because of a failed marriage? The author opines to the affirmative. Or was it something more? The book only gives us a glimpse of Allan's troubled reaction to her depression.
I believe a more indepth study into the soul of this woman would have shown dramatically the tragedy of her death. Set in the time period, our society was not cognizant or nor able to recognize signals in mental depression. There are many examples in the book of how Diane was attempting to overcome the demons.
All in all, I found the book interesting and well written.