Monday, 19 November 2012

Diane Arbus - The Female View

A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing NYC 1966 © The Estate of Diane Arbus

A photographer friend of mine visited the Diane Arbus show at the weekend and offered me an angle on her work that I hadn't appreciated before.

Arbus, she believed, managed to convey a particular strength in her female subjects. Maleness, on the other hand, appears more shrinking and vulnerable. I took another look at the photographs in the show and started to think she might have a point. If you look at the press images from the show, it's all there. The Brooklyn family, the woman with a veil, the man with curlers.

But I think it is a strength born from suffering. I went back over the story for clues why this could be. In A Chronology, the book produced in conjunction with the show, I read that, for many years. Arbus was brought up by a governess. Arbus herself described this woman as looking 'as if she had a very sad secret and she would never tell anyone.'1

And now looking at the pictures again, you could say many of the female characters in them give you that same impression. I'm not saying I have the whole story, but perhaps Arbus recognised something in that governess and looked for the same quality in the other women she photographed.

Jonathan Crawford

Diane Arbus can be seen at Foam until 13 January 2013.

1. pg.4 Diane Arbus, A Chronology, Elisabeth Sussman and Doon Arbus, pub. Aperture NY