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Diane Arbus: Revelations Hardcover – September 30, 2003
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Muscle men, midgets, socialites, circus performers and asylum inmates: in the 1950s and '60s, photographer Diane Arbus (1923-1971) cast her strong eye on them all, capturing them as no one else could. Her documentary-style photos of society's margin-walkers were objective and reverential, while she often portrayed so-called normal people looking far more freakish than the freaks. Her powerful work was well-received in its day. Arbus received Guggenheim Fellowships in 1963 and 1966 and was included in a major show at MOMA in 1967. But her work entered the realm of near-myth after her 1971 suicide.Posthumously cast as everything from patron saint of the underdog to a crass exploiter of the mentally challenged, Arbus has curiously never had a large retrospective until the show Revelations was organized by Arbus' family and SF MOMA. The accompanying catalogue is an oversized, sumptuous, beautifully printed tome. It includes all of the artist's iconic photographs as well as many that have never been publicly exhibited, including many pages of contact sheets, journal entries, and family snapshots. This work is so strong, it's mind-blowing. The giant in his apartment with his parents looks absolutely regal, his parents sad and confused. Are those crazy people always so happy? And what to make of this moment of extreme tenderness between a dominatrix and her client? This is a book worth hours of your time. --Mike McGonigal
From the Inside Flap
Diane Arbus redefined the concerns and the range of the art she practiced. Her bold subject matter and photographic approach have established her preeminence in the world of the visual arts. Her gift for rendering strange those things we consider most familiar, and uncovering the familiar within the exotic, enlarges our understanding of ourselves.
Diane Arbus Revelations affords the first opportunity to explore the origins, scope, and aspirations of what is a wholly original force in photography. Arbuss frank treatment of her subjects and her faith in the intrinsic power of the medium have produced a body of work that is often shocking in its purity, in its steadfast celebration of things as they are. Presenting many of her lesser-known or previously unpublished photographs in the context of the iconic images reveals a subtle yet persistent view of the world.
The book reproduces two hundred full-page duotones of Diane Arbus photographs spanning her entire career, many of them never before seen. It also includes an essay, The Question of Belief, by Sandra S. Phillips, senior curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and In the Darkroom, a discussion of Arbuss printing techniques by Neil Selkirk, the only person authorized to print her photographs since her death. A 104-page Chronology by Elisabeth Sussman, guest curator of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art show, and Doon Arbus, the artists eldest daughter, illustrated by more than three hundred additional images and composed mainly of previously unpublished excerpts from the artists letters, notebooks, and other writings, amounts to a kind of autobiography. An Afterword by Doon Arbus precedes biographical entries on the photographers friends and colleagues by Jeff L. Rosenheim, associate curator of photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. These texts help illuminate the meaning of Diane Arbuss controversial and astonishing vision.
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Arbus was a complete original, beholden to no other photographer. Additionally, she led a life of reckless daring. "I have never refused sex to anyone who asked me."
Her suicide at 48 did not come as much of a shock to those who knew her. Hepatitus and advancing age, plus manic-depression, gave her little choice but to end her life.
The rumor was thet she set up a camera looking down into her bathtub so she could get pictures of her own death, but no camera was found at the scene.
So many of her pictures are immortal: "Young Man in Curlers," "Boy with grenade in Central Part," "Transvestite at her birthday party." The final series of pictures of retarded people disturbed Arbus greatly and may have hastened her suicide. The picture of the retarded people in Halloween costumes, the blind leading the blind, is unforgettable.
Unfortunately, no matter how much you love her work, there is a curious oscillation between crude satire (the masked Jewish man, the Jewish King and Queen sitting on their throne) and the truly monumental photos of human faces (Couple in Central Park, Puerto Rican Woman NYC, Child Crying) that is not accidental, but truly a part of her vision. You can't get away from the crude satire. Every ten pages or so, there it is again. And it is Arbus, just as much as "Young Man in Curlers."
Worth every penny, not to be missed.