10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 24 September 2009
Diane Arbus had a reputation for simply photographing 'freaks'. It is a wholly undeserved reputation and shows, to my mind, a basic misunderstanding of her work. The title of this review is from a line quoted at the beginning of the book and it goes a very long way in explaining what Dianne Arbus is 'about'.
The pictures in this book all portray misinterpretations of the 'normal'. And, as such, they call into question what normal is. It's only when you see someone getting it wrong that you realise that there is something there to get wrong. We go through life blithely accepting the values that are presented to us as fixed, immutable, natural and 'obvious'. But when someone who has that same upbringing, that same life, presents those values slightly skewed, then it highlights the fact that there is a value there, that the value is not a 'given', it is not 'natural'. And at that point, we can change, discard, abuse it. As Arbus says in the introduction:
'Sometimes I can see a photograph or a painting, I see it and I think, That's not the way it is. I don't mean a feeling of, I don't like it. I mean the feeling that this is fantastic, but there's something wrong. I guess it's my own sense of what a fact is'.
So, you might draw a parallel with Bertold Brecht's 'verfremdung' or alienation effect.
The introduction, then, is illuminating. The pictures themselves are beautiful, disturbing and tragic. Roughly in chronological order, from the early 60's up to the early 70's, they hint at a sad journey, ending in Arbus's suicide. The early ones - starting with 'Russian midget friends in a living room on 100th Street, N.Y.C. 1963', through 'Girl with a cigar in Washington Square Park, N.Y.C. 1965', the chilling 'A family on their lawn one Sunday in Westchester, N.Y. 1968' and the touching 'Transvestite at her birthday party, N.Y.C. 1969' slowly give way to more surreal and cruel images, such as 'Girl in her circus costume, Md 1970', 'A woman with her baby monkey, N.J. 1971' up to the final, untitled, collection of Down's Syndrome people. The last are disturbing, not because of the subject matter, but because of the way the people have been portrayed, dressed, presented, presumably by their carers. The final picture - Untitled (7) 1970-71 - is almost a 'danse macabre'.
This is a classic collection. But it's not simply a collection of stunning images. It illustrates a 'way of looking' that makes you question assumptions you never even realised you were making.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Diane Arbus was a little like Nan Goldin in her way of focusing on marginalised people but they were not her friends and the scope is wider, taking in people who don't fit in to society for physical and identity-based reasons, as well as the extravagantly wealthy, and the very 'ordinary' in a few instances. You feel that the tone, while sympathetic, has some kind of ambiguity as well, allowing us to see, in the same image, the person's self-image and the way others might perceive them as well. There is a degree of delusion felt in the photos that makes them quite unique, and the two elements make looking at them a very intense experience and an unforgettable one - has any photographer said so much about humanity? In a world where the proliferation of images has made them largely throwaway, these have a permanence one might more readily associate with bronze sculpture - you feel they are part of the human picture indelibly, and ultimately a great affirmation of our humanity in all its strangeness and contradictions.
51 of 58 people found the following review helpful
on 13 March 1999
A friend working in bookstore asked why I'd never mentioned being in Diane Arbus' "book of freaks". Until that moment I didn't know but of course I knew she'd photographed me. (There's a hint!) It was without a doubt one of the most intense experiences of my life. That she often saw what others could not is reflected on every page. She called her subjects aristocrats. I think you must be one to see that quality in another. The photographs taken thirty years ago are timeless.Although the clothing, hairstyles and makeup are from a definite era (sixties) one can hardly imagine the subjects dressed any other way. Arbus has created a nation of anachronisms in her book. There is a definite sense of family, of community from page to page; from a Brooklyn bedroom to a Greenwich Village park bench to a lawn party at Willowbrook. Someone asked me how it felt to be in this "book of freaks". I couldn't answer then. But now I can: Even if your face is not on the pages of Monograph you will find yourself there. Just look.
11 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on 13 December 1998
Diane Arbus depicts the "off beaten path" part of society in the most glamorous way possible. She makes the socially unaccepted look completely relaxed and comfortable in front of the camera. I am very lucky to have stumbled upon this book of photographs by Diane Arbus - make yourself lucky also.
on 5 January 2014
I got this as i just adore Arbus's work and have non of her books, and i am so happy i got this one. As you get a wide range of her work, and layout is great. All the photographs are full page and printed wonderfully. So if you like the work of Diane Arbus this is great to put to your collection or good for anyone interested in photography as it will be a wonderful source of inspiration.