American Photographer, Diane Arbus (1923-1971)

Poet and writer, Michael Rothenberg, co-founder of 100,000 Poets for Change and editor at Big Bridge Press (which he also co-founded) suggested that we take a mental health break and assigned each of us an artist to feature. I’m sure you know why we need a mental health break.

My assignment is the American photographer, Diane Arbus. She was known for her artistic documentation of “freaks.” –

“There’s a quality of legend about freaks. Like a person in a fairy tale who stops you and demands that you answer a riddle. Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.” Diane Arbus

Arbus was also known for her manner of engaging with her subjects, helping them to get comfortable with being photographed. She once went naked at a nudist camp to get the camp members to trust her.

The photograph I first thought of when I saw my assignment was “Child with a Toy Hand-grenade in Central Park.”

I vividly remember seeing it featured in the ’60s in the New York Times. Colin Wood, the subject of the photo, wrote as he reflected on his childhood encounter with Arbus. “She catches me in a moment of exasperation. It’s true, I was exasperated. My parents had divorced and there was a general feeling of loneliness, a sense of being abandoned. I was just exploding. She saw that and it’s like . . . commiseration. She captured the loneliness of everyone. It’s all people who want to connect but don’t know how to connect. And I think that’s how she felt about herself. She felt damaged and she hoped that by wallowing in that feeling, through photography, she could transcend herself.”

“If you scrutinize reality closely enough, if in some way you really, really get to it, it becomes fantastic.”  Diane Arbus

The video below features Diane Arbus portraits and other photographs.  If you are view ing this from an email subscription, you’ll have to link through to the site to watch the video.

The photos featured are under copyright and shared here under fair use.

The recommended read for this week is Borges’ The Craft of Verse. (One of my faves.) 41-mshkw5pl-_sx331_bo1204203200_These are the famed lost lectures given in English at Harvard University (1967/68) by Jorge Luis Borges that were transcribed (c. 2000) and published in 2002.

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  1. Afraid I don’t see this quite as Diane Arbus does. My eldest son was born 3 months prematurely, will always be small, and with a handicap. After his 3 months in intensive care, some people assumed that they “already knew” what his issues were, but the weaknesses did not stop with the physical; instead, he has continued to have at least an equal share of psycho/social impairments.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I don’t see that she is implying that get over their traumas, just that they started life with them whereas the rest of us don’t get hit with trauma until later in life.


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