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Is the subject confronting the photographer?


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Is there a victim in this scenario? Arbus muddies the water: the link between her apparently friendly method and its apparently brutal result was so hard to trace that everyone looked to her life for clues. Her quest for outcasts, her appetite for group sex, her overdose: all seemed to offer themselves up in the service of her images.

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The grouping was a little spurious: Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand were street photographers, and Arbus was a portraitist, but her subjects may have been too strange to be seen that way at the time. Entitled New Documents, the exhibition was based on the idea that the new documentarians were not recording the world with a view to changing it but simply in order to know it. Key to all of this was an understanding of the photographic act as a transaction.


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U nlike Walker Evans, who hid his camera in his coat, or Paul Strand, who attached a fake lens to the side of his so no one could see what he was really aiming at, Arbus considered her portraits to be collaborations. As a signal, he drops an early bomb: not only did Arbus experiment sexually with her brother, Howard Nemerov, when they were children, but the siblings continued to have sex throughout her life.

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Lubow is categorical about this. At the time, Boigon was still alive and so was Howard Nemerov, the American poet laureate, among other things they died in and , respectively.

Could Arbus have been trying to outrage a therapist to whom she was in many ways already averse? Lubow pins his subject under a microscope, and enlists as his helpers acquaintances who found Arbus exasperating and are finally prepared to say so.

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This is, perhaps, an effect of the passing of time: as with Marilyn Monroe, whose death also involved barbiturates and whose doctor also saw fit to talk, would-be witnesses are bound to crawl out of the woodwork. But in the biography of a photographer, outlook is not irrelevant.

Arbus was famous for the way she saw, not for how she was seen.

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A far more interesting contribution is Diane Arbus: In the Beginning, a book published to accompany a Metropolitan Museum exhibition of her early work. The book and exhibition contain photographs Arbus made between , when she left the studio she shared with her husband, and , when she starting using a Rolleiflex and producing the images for which she is known. Here, we find Arbus exploring worlds she would come to know better, but everything about the result is tentative. She is protected by the artifice, and you can feel her distance.

I n one significant contact sheet, a woman on a bus is photographed unawares, then photographed again, looking at the camera. In , Arbus started to work with a twin-lens Rolleiflex. Her camera no longer covered her face, so she could engage with her subjects undisguised.

Category:Photographers who committed suicide - Wikipedia

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The Suicide Photographer

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Why Photographers Commit Suicide Summary