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Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer Hardcover – June 7, 2016
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“With vivid details and acute insights, Arthur Lubow, an exceptionally talented writer, has brought to life a unique and enduring artist. Through her camera, Diane Arbus gave us an enlarged view of human nature. This book shows who she was and how she did it.” (Gay Talese)
“Arbus...took the time to establish a genuine bond with her subjects so that her photographs, while bold and unsparing, were also deeply sympathetic. Arthur Lubow has approached Arbus in much the same spirit, and the result is a perceptive, engaging, and profoundly moving portrait.” (John Berendt)
“The author produces a thorough, sympathetic portrait of a complicated woman who, from childhood on, stood out as ‘totally original.’ . . . Lubow sharply captures Arbus’ restlessness, pain, and artistic vision.“ (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))
“In a fast-moving narrative style that reads like an eyewitness account, Lubow gets inside both the person and the persona. This book both analyzes and contributes to the notoriety and fascination with one of the most complicated figures in the history of photography.” (Jeff Wall)
“Lubow turned a routine magazine assignment for the New York Times into the defining biography of photographer Diane Arbus . . . Lubow provides not only a comprehensive assessment of her groundbreaking work but, perhaps more significantly, a revealing documentary of Arbus’s often-tortured life.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))
“Lubow’s portrait is the most sharply focused, encompassing, and incisive to date.” (Booklist)
“Lubow is entering a crowded arena, for the Arbus industry is hardly a place of repose. Yet the author fights for his spot, and earns it. His research is unflagging and his timing is good.” (The New Yorker)
“Enormously satisfying. . . This compelling book shows an Arbus that is as mysterious as her best photographs. Like them, she tells us something about ourselves that is vital, but that we may not always want to see.” (Boston Globe)
“Big, sharply focused, disturbingly intimate...Lubow chronicles Arbus’s rise and fall with a novelistic intensity that plumbs the decisive moments of a driven, unsettled soul...A major work.” (USA Today)
“Arthur Lubow’s compelling new biography about the revolutionary photographer Diane Arbus brilliantly demonstrates how the emotionally fragile state of an artist can be channeled into something wondrous. . . . Superbly crafted. . . . Lubow is a talented and sensitive writer.” (The Washington Post)
From the Back Cover
The definitive biography of the beguiling Diane Arbus, one of the most influential and important photographers of the twentieth century, a brilliant and absorbing exposition that links the extraordinary arc of her life to her iconic photographs
Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer brings into focus with vividness and immediacy one of the great American artists of the twentieth century. Arbus comes startlingly to life on these pages, a strong-minded child of disconcerting originality who grew into a formidable photographer of unflinching courage. Arbus forged an intimacy with her subjects that has inspired generations of artists. Arresting, unsettling, and poignant, her photographs stick in our minds. Why did these people fascinate her? And what was it about her that captivated them?
It is impossible to understand the transfixing power of Arbus’s photographs without exploring her life. Lubow draws on exclusive interviews with Arbus’s friends, lovers, and colleagues; on previously unknown letters; and on his own profound critical insights into photography to explore Arbus’s unique perspective and to reveal important aspects of her life that were previously unknown or unsubstantiated. He deftly traces Arbus’s development from a wealthy, sexually precocious free spirit into first, a successful New York fashion photographer and then, a singular artist who coaxed secrets from her subjects. Lubow reveals that Arbus’s profound need not only to see her subjects but to be seen by them drove her to forge unusually close bonds with these people, helping her discover the fantasies, pain, and heroism within each of them, and leading her to create a new kind of photographic portraiture charged with an unnerving complicity between the subject and the viewer.Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer brushes aside the clichés that have long surrounded Arbus and her work. It is a magnificently absorbing biography of this unique, hugely influential artist.
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Lubow's extensive research and in-depth interviews with many people in Arbus's life, his insightful analysis of her work, his evenhanded history of her life, including its many contradictions, and his sensitive attempt to bring her into as coherent a whole as any complex human being can be made into, make this not just a masterful biography of Arbus but a notable exemplar of the biographical art itself.
The biography tells us, of course, not just of one life, but many, including Dianne's husband, the photographer and actor, Allan Arbus. And it's an exploration of the time when photography grew beyond Steichen's galleries into a major force in the New York art world. It gives insight into a critical era in fashion photography and the influence of Arbus's good friend Richard Avedon. And it deals sensitively with her suicide, the heartbreaking finale to her life but not to her fame and influence.
It helps too that Lubow is a gifted, lucid writer who manages to work so much of his extensive research into the book without ever wearying the reader.
Another reviewer here laments that Lubow didn't obtain rights to Arbus's pictures, which we would of course all like to have in our hands as we read the book, but the rights are impossible to obtain. They are kept under extremely guarded control by Arbus's daughters. You can, however, read the biography with books published by the daughters and thus gain immediate and full advantage of Lubow's penetrating analysis.
There is a lot of insight into her life and those of the people who were immediately around her including legendary art directors, editors, writers, friends, lovers, and fellow photographers (including what I think will be the most honest assesment of Richard Avedon the person and Richard Avedon the photographer that we are likely to see) and is a very telling portrait of what itmeant to be part of the worlds of art andpublishing in New York City in the 1950s and '60s.
Is there a lot of prying into complicated people's even more complicated sex lives? Why yes there is but the tone is neither smarmy or salacious (as in tje awful Bosworth biography), just a reporting of facts.
Lubow discusses and analyses many of Ms. Arbus' photographs so it is handy to have ready access to well printed or reproduced versions handy. His insight is keen and is enhanced when speaks to or quotes the people she photographed.