Visual impact is more powerful and influential than we think. You know my knowledge on photography is really limited and in fact, it’s nowadays when I’ve decided to research and dig into those characters whose work, at some point, has met my eye.
This is what happens with Diane Arbus’ legacy. I knew her by name, and that she was related to photography, as one of these MUST references, but that was all.
Then I saw these two pictures and I remembered. On one hand The Roselle Twins, as disturbing as Kubrick’s Grady Twins, on the other those kids covered in masks sat on the stairs at the entrance of a building. These two captures really shocked me long time ago (and they still amaze me), but I didn’t relate them to the person behind the camera up to date.
Diane Arbus, was well known for being the photographer of freaks. Perhaps she didn’t like such label, but by all means such fact could be denied: midgets, transvestites, giants, fat and slim people, men completely covered in tattoos, disabled… somehow she deeply respected them, considering they had managed to overcome and come to terms with their born traumas. Thus, she was one of these outlaws, experimenting and capturing the “evil”. You can bet Tod Browning‘s Freaks, the controversial film, was a huge influence for the New Yorker. It’s not very difficult to imagine her career wasn’t a bed of roses. She and her husband had started in the commercial photography business focusing on fashion related jobs, but they never liked the results and critics also reckon their work was far from outstanding.
Perhaps her depressive tendency which eventually dragged her to commit suicide, also had to do with her taste for the dark. Her approach to reality was not suitable for public acceptance, and in order to achieve such disturbing reality in her captures, she didn’t have any problem in establishing boundaries with the subjects to portrait. Can you imagine yoursel dealing with retarded, or schizophrenic people for the sole purpose of taking some pictures? I don’t think so.
Again, it’s the lowest and darkest side of human condition Diane Arbus managed to catch in her shots what definitely attracts, and at the same time, disturbs me. Many characters are excessive and grotesque, yet you don’t see them as ridiculous nor target them as the focusing point for laughs. You just observe, and then react when standing at them.
There’s a film named Fur, featuring Nicole Kidman, inspired in Diane Arbus’ life. To be honest, I just remember some promo related, but since I’m not a great fan of the Australian porcelain skin artist, didn’t pay much attention. Guess soon I’ll have to check whether it’s worth seeing as an unofficial record of her life.
Anyway, in case you want to check more of her selected work, you can visit this site, which offers you a wider perspective of the artist with her beloved freaks.