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Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph (Book Review)

Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph

Diane Arbus (1923-1971) was definitely a photographer’s photographer. I absolutely love Norman Mailer’s 1971 quote: “Giving a camera to Diane Arbus is like putting a live grenade in the hands of a child.” She was the photographer who focused on the freaks and described them as people who had “already passed their test in life.” She wrote “They’re aristocrats.”

Of course, these were through the times in the United States where there were the so-called “Ugly Laws”… intended to stop freaks from going into cafes and diners and public places. They were laws intended to get the disturbing off the street so society could fool itself that normalcy was somehow normal. So, while viewing Diane Arbus’ work, I can’t avoid the conscious echo that super-imposed on her images are the footprints of a society that was beating these people down.

And Diane Arbus, of course, was a disturbed soul in her own right. She committed suicide in 1971 in her 40s… relatively young.

Her work is blunt. Her photographs are a surviving document of the flaws and the differences between human beings through the facilitating perspective of an empathic communicator. In Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph, printed in 1972 (a year after her death), the reader is exposed to a selected array of her work in the spirit of the values and ideals that she held through her life. The iconic “Child with a hand grenade in Central Park, NYC 1962”; “Tattooed man at a carnival, Md 1970”; and, “A young [black] man and his pregnant [white] wife in Washington Square Park, NYC 1965”.

While we may make photographs as observers, documenters or collaborators there are certain truths that constrain the resulting artifacts. The photographer chooses what to include or omit from photographs. The photographer selects the correct exposure, the angles and the light. The photographer brings an inevitable bundle of political and social belief systems into the selection and creation of the subject matter.

Looking through the eyes of Diane Arbus is to inhale a social comment about humanity. Why do we ostracise the different? Why are we mesmerised by twins and triplets, or nudists or transvestites.

This is an incredible body of work and nobody would argue that Diane Arbus was anything but a master of her craft and an influence for future generations.

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About the Author

Steven Clark Steven Clark - the stand up guy on this site

My name is Steven Clark (aka nortypig) and I live in Southern Tasmania. I have an MBA (Specialisation) and a Bachelor of Computing from the University of Tasmania. I'm a photographer making pictures with film. A web developer for money. A business consultant for fun. A journalist on paper. Dreams of owning the World. Idea champion. Paradox. Life partner to Megan.

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