14 March 2008

Diane Arbus (14 March 1923 - 26 July 1971)

Among the things that recommend Arbus is the disdainful attitude that Susan Sontag evinced toward her work in On Photography. It seems transparent to me that Arbus made pictures of "freaks" in order to call attention to our odd, inconsistently applied social norms. Sontag complains that Arbus was not compassionate. She is fixated on the "freaks" rather than on those of us who police the criteria of normality. Sontag thereby misses our own cruelty, the humiliations in which we actively particpate. It was easier for her to be moralistic than to assess Arbus's accomplishment - allowing us to see how social norms work.

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Anonymous Bill Bresler said...

Well said. As a kid in high school in the early 1970s I discovered Diane Arbus. I brought her monograph home. My very conservative father, with whom I thought I had little in common, picked up the book, looking at the portrait of the New Jersey woman with the monkey dressed as a baby, for a very long time. He looked up at me and shook his head, and I realized that he and I saw the same thing in Arbus's "freaks". We are all "freaks", although it's easier for some of us to hide it, or just less easy to see.

14 March, 2008 23:55  
Blogger Stan B. said...

For all her high brow photo criticism, Sontag sure hooked up with one of its biggest photographic hacks.

15 March, 2008 21:05  

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