"Diane Arbus: Photographs of another America 1962-1971" at the Gold Coast City Gallery from March 17 - April 17, 2006 will be one of only two venues to host this prestigious exhibition with works drawn from a private collection in Melbourne and the National Gallery of Australia. The selection of over 40 works including vintage prints made by Arbus herself, allows us to see a wide range of her work including magazine commissions and her personal investigations. Diane Arbus is regarded as one of the Twentieth Century’s most influential yet debated photographers.
“I do feel I have some slight corner or something about the quality of things. I mean it’s very subtle and a little embarrassing to me, but I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them” Diane Arbus 1971
Her subjects are strangers she happened upon in the streets and parks of New York, the families and personalities, famous and not so, that she photographed in the privacy of their homes and apartments, and the people often thought of as occupying the margins of society- the disabled and the eccentric. Through her work they continue to look out to us with a contemporary immediacy.
Born Diane Nemerov in New York in 1923 she had a privileged upbringing in an affluent Jewish family, but from an early age was attracted to photography, and, at a time when women were not encouraged in this field, developed a successful career in fashion and magazine work in partnership with her husband, Allan Arbus, whom she married at the age of 18.
She began to develop her own distinct style in the late 1950s ; square, black and white images, commonly using a strong flash to capture a frozen expression and to bring the subject out of the background. Arbus received a number of fellowships throughout the 1960s, but it was the landmark exhibition New Documents at the Museum of Modern Art NY that cemented not only her reputation as an artist, but also that of her co-exhibitors, Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogran.
In 1971 she committed suicide, and in 1972 her work was the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, NY. She was also the first American photographer to exhibit in the Venice Biennale, also in 1972.
An exhibition developed by the Jewish Museum of Australia and presented by Gold Coast City Art Gallery with the support and assistance of the National Gallery of Australia and the sponsorship of the Pelerman Group.
Arbus’s work brings out a range of emotional responses. On one side some believe that Arbus has allowed us to understand ‘the other’, and that she had a warm compassion for her subjects; whilst others have called her a voyeur of freaks.
In a recent Art in America article, author Leo Rubinfien summarised this dilemma by stating “What is essential to understand is that it interested her not as a blunt, obscene fact, but for how it shaped the psyche of the person who endured it, which is the meaning of her famous comment that ‘freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.’”
Her output in her brief but dramatic life has left us with a complex understanding of the ‘other’ – people on the margins of society that Arbus sought to bring in.
Teenage couple on Hudson St, N.Y.C. 1963
gelatin silver photograph
24.7 x 23.5 cm
Collection National Gallery of Australia,
Canberra Courtesy the Estate of Diane Arbus.