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Quote of the Week #8: Diane Arbus

Curators’ corner

Quote of the Week #8: Diane Arbus

“I work from awkwardness. By that I mean I don’t like to arrange things. If I stand in front of something, instead of arranging it, I arrange myself.”

– Diane Arbus

It can be said that Diane Arbus took care in being as honest as possible with her work. She was distinguished by her subject matter above all things, though. And it was in her insistence to capture some sliver of the lives of her subjects where she was greeted with the most criticism. She shot portraits of people who were, especially in that day and age relegated to the outskirts of society due to their physical and mental abnormalities. Circus performers and “freaks”, dwarves, transgender, nudists, and the mentally ill populated her body of work, for the most part. It was this choice of subject that drew the ire of critics like Susan Sontag who considered the work crass, exploitative and tactless; as if Diane was fetishizing the fringes of society while rubbing the viewers nose in it, and reveling in the whole matter.

Photo by Diane Arbus

 But that is a matter of interpretation and it can easily be said, just as readily, that Diane humanized the obscure and marginalized. The value of her work is there to be had. She opened a door for us, as viewers, which was closed before and by doing so she allowed us to look at and come to terms with our own feeling about these people, whom we’ve either actively of complicity helped to marginalize. She gave us the opportunity to look in their eyes and see a broader width of humanity, regardless of her intentions. Perhaps that is the deeper value of her work; it exists outside of and beyond her because it is so deeply rooted in the manner in which society is structured, and that is a structure in which we participate in daily.

Photo by Diane Arbus

Photo by Diane Arbus

 

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