Discussions about Diane Arbus’ work usually start with debate. Her work is controversial despite having her subjects’ consent. She photographed marginalized people – dwarves, trans people, nudists, circus performers and queer folks, and they are shot head-on, staring unapologetically at the camera. Her subjects don’t have to perform “rituals” of acceptance – they are born with their trauma, and we are forced to question the ideals projected in the world, the people we exclude and don’t talk about. In the high-contrast light of her flash, none of the details on ordinary subjects – housewives and the wealthy – are washed over. We see wrinkles and scars. Arbus was interested in the contrast of ugly and surreal with the makeup and shiny décor dominant culture hides behind and denies their traumas. Dominant culture is built upon an unreality, a strict, social code, which Arbus wants to break through. The same culture resists her photographs because she confronts us with what we pretend doesn’t exist. Her photographs say, an artist believes UFOs exist and searches for the truth despite opposition.
Header : “Lethargic.” Ink and gouache. 2014. see more of my work in the gallery.
Christmas Tree in a Living Room. 1963. Diane Arbus.