Diane Arbus’s 1960s

Diane Arbus’s 1960s: Auguries of Experience

Frederick Gross
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 280
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  • Book Info
    Diane Arbus’s 1960s
    Book Description:

    Frederick Gross returns Diane Arbus’s work to the moment in which it was produced and first viewed to reveal its broader significance for analyzing and mapping the culture of the 1960s. While providing a unique view of the social, literary, and artistic context within which Arbus worked, he also measures the true breadth and complexity of her achievement.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-8007-8
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    (pp. 1-30)

    The late 1950s witnessed a fundamental rupture in the photographic representation of Americans. Disenchanted with the universalist vision of humanity proposed by Edward Steichen’s widely popular The Family of Man exhibition held at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1955, photographers such as Diane Arbus and Robert Frank immediately sought a more jarring, ironic, critical portrayal of Americans. Working within, yet also against, the genres of photojournalism and portraiture, Arbus and Frank sought to disrupt the photograph’s use as an illustration of a specific ideological discourse that they felt was uncritically aligned to American cold war propaganda...

  5. 1 Documentary Photography and the Positivist Social Gallery
    (pp. 31-62)

    From its inception, photographic social-panorama portraiture was invested with positivist content that, despite aesthetic shifts, remained intact until the 1960s. Engaging in an extended flashback, this chapter traces the threads of positivist, typological discourse from the sixties back to the early twentieth century to see how deeply ingrained such discourse had become. I do not intend to pursue a comprehensive history of the galleries, only to focus on their historical significance along a trajectory ending with Arbus’s antigallery. From circa 1850 until circa 1960, the reception of photographs took place in a sociocultural context in which some type of positivist...

  6. 2 Portraits, Pastiche, and Magazine Work
    (pp. 63-96)

    This chapter situates three interrelated aspects of Diane Arbus’s work within a broader cultural and critical condition, prevalent in the 1960s, in which some of the underlying sociological assumptions inherent in historically significant photographic portrait galleries (covered in chapter 1) were thrown into question. This critical condition needs to be considered inseparable from the seeds of social dissent sown in the 1960s, in particular those of the civil rights movement, the women’s movement, influential student organizations like the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or “Snick”) and the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society), and the widespread protest of the Vietnam...

  7. 3 The Body in the 1960s
    (pp. 97-132)

    A photograph of Arbus by one of her pupils, Eva Rubenstein, taken in 1971, strongly suggests Arbus’s interest in the human body as a kind of metaphoric assemblage (Revelations,220). The photograph, taken in her Westbeth apartment (at the intersection of West and Bethune Streets in Greenwich Village), reveals a portion of Arbus’s “collage wall” behind her. Arbus is seated on a large, ornately-carved wooden armchair, not unlike a throne. Approximately eight photographs are tacked to the wall, each one showing a close-up of a different person’s body part or parts. Two photographs are of backs, one is of legs,...

  8. 4 Madness, Disability, and the “Untitled” Series
    (pp. 133-156)

    A good bit of Arbus’s last work, now known as her “Untitled” series, dealt with images of the mentally “retarded.” In a letter to Allan Arbus on November 28, 1969, she indicated the significance of these works, writing, “FINALLY what I have been searching for” (Revelations,203). But what was she searching for? Why was Arbus so enthralled by this particular subject matter? As mentioned in my earlier discussion of pastiche, Arbus’s “Untitled” series is categorically related to historical groups of photographs of the mentally retarded or insane—between which, in the eyes of pseudoscience, there was little difference. In...

  9. 5 The Social Panorama in Context
    (pp. 157-204)

    From the time of Balzac’sComédie humainethrough Alfred Döblin’sBerlin, Alexanderplatzto James Agee’sLet Us Now Praise Famous Men, the literary social panorama and photography have been thematically intertwined. Both areas have attempted to produce a cross-section of individual types representative of a particular social moment. Arbus’s specific connection to literature of this sort must be established, as it provides clear links to her work as a social panorama. In relation to other literature, scholars have drawn comparisons between Arbus and Franz Kafka, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and Philip Roth.¹ Generally, the comparisons hinge on the biographical, emphasizing...

    (pp. 205-212)

    As I looked at the never-before-seen photographs, objects, books, cameras, and ephemera included in the Revelations exhibition, which I visited at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in 2004–5, I was struck by a sense of recognition, perhaps somewhat related to the feeling an archaeologist might have on discovering objects assumed to be there but never verified, confirming certain hypotheses. The sheer number of new pictures and objects in the exhibition justified what I believed to be lacking in the Arbus scholarship and sealed the conviction that significant...

  11. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 213-214)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 215-236)
  13. Index
    (pp. 237-264)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 265-265)