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Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer Paperback – Illustrated, March 14, 2017
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“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.” -- Nickolas Butler, internationally bestselling author of Shotgun Lovesongs and The Hearts of Men
“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
“The book reads more like a novel-salacious, mysterious . . . and harrowing.” -- New York Times Book Review
“Epic, sympathetic, but unsparing.” -- New York magazine
“A stellar new biography. . . . ruthlessly researched and beautifully written.” -- Philadelphia Inquirer
From the Back Cover
Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer vividly brings one of the great American artists of the twentieth century into focus. Arbus comes 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?
In this definitive biography, Arthur Lubow brushes aside the clichés that have long surrounded Arbus and her work. It is a magnificently absorbing biography of this unique, hugely influential artist.
- Publisher : Ecco; Illustrated edition (March 14, 2017)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 752 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0062234331
- ISBN-13 : 978-0062234339
- Item Weight : 2 pounds
- Dimensions : 1.6 x 6 x 9 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #552,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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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.
Diane Arbus grew up in an upper middle class home, with a mother who was far more interested in status and appearance than in loving her children. She formed an extremely close, later incestuous, relationship with her older brother. Both were recognized as brilliant, but Diane stood out as a wholly original intellect. Prone to depression, she seemed to lack normal boundaries, portending a life of mental illness.
She chose her husband, Allan, when she was 13, though had to wait until high school graduation to marry him, due to his lower middle class background and the disapproval of her parents. They started a fashion photography business, which Diane grew to hate as she had a subordinate role. Both spouses were unfaithful and bi-sexual. Finally, Diane quit the business and began to study photography, happening upon a great mentor, Lisette Model.
Once she honed her style, Arbus began to do strikingly original work, a kind of extension of the intimate portrait "types" of August Sander. In her photos, she cultivated a deep rapport with her subjects, coaxing them to drop their guard, sometimes over hours of conversation and pursuit. She combined empathy and an acute awareness of the social situation of her subjects, often seeking out marginal groups such as sideshow freaks, addicts, and LGBTQ, whom she portrayed as individuals as well as Sander's general types. The result was a new kind of photography that helped to raise journalism to a higher art form with the presence of the photographer included, i.e. not just her perception, but how her personality meshed with the subjects. Lubow argues that it fits with modernism and, contrary to her critics, not exploitive of her subjects.
What is so remarkable about the book is that Lubow, through the copious documentation available (and unknown to me), describes the genesis of many of Arbus' most iconic images. His approach - descriptive more than interpretive or judgmental - adds to the perception of her art rather than subtracting from it. I will have to look through all of her work again, with fresh eyes and Lubow's insights in mind, which is the best one would hope a critic can accomplish.
Lubow also covers her psychological struggles in a cautious way, never falling into jargon but leaving interpretation to the reader. In my view, it was just the right balance. In desperate need of human contact, Arbus was extraordinarily promiscuous, attending orgies and seducing many of her subjects. Stressed financially and overwhelmed by the deterioration of her partnership with Allan, it is a story of long descent into suicidal depression. While recognizing it is reflected in her work, Lubow never romanticizes her mental illness or confused sexuality - it was just part of her.
This is a phenomenal read. Perhaps one needs to be very familiar with her work and already appreciative of it, but I never tired of the way Lubow uncovered its layers. Of course, if you don't like her work, you'd probably find this too detailed. Recommended with the greatest enthusiasm.
Top reviews from other countries
This book is only worth five gbp at best. Very disappointed on quality