by Betsy Mowry
The current exhibit at the Walker Art Center, Diane Arbus Revelations, presents a remarkable and comprehensive insight into the true essence of photographer Diane Arbus. The display is extensive and solicits a thought provoking appreciation of this pivotal artist.
In 1941, at just 18, Diane Nemerov began her career and married Allan Arbus. She worked for many years in fashion photography alongside her husband. Fifteen years later, she left the fashion industry to focus specifically on her own creative photography. Arbus worked extensively as a photojournalist and had many pieces published in magazines and newspapers, such as Esquire, the New York Times and Harper’s Bazaar. Undoubtedly her experience straddling the beauty and illusion of the fashion industry and the realism of capturing human stories as a photojournalist influenced her desire to unmask the hidden and expose the unusual.
deeper into her own creative goals, Arbus’ unique photographic style continued
to develop as she worked prolifically into the 1960s. Not only did she have
an incredible, artistic eye, but her desire to understand and control the medium
of the camera helped her capture images with the lighting and clarity that make
her portraits distinct. Her transition from the commonly used 35mm camera to
a 2 1/4-inch twin-lens reflex (TLR) camera produced larger negatives, which
created sharper and more detailed enlarged prints. The TLR also produced the
square format that Arbus is known for--originally with black, and later uneven
Arbus’ signature approach was to take direct, candid photographs of people.
Her subjects looked directly at the camera and appeared slightly confrontational.
Her ability to engage subjects and earn their trust allowed her to capture facial
expressions and settings that revealed something deep and personal. Arbus fearlessly
pursued her artistic vision, snapping multitudes of photos in every imaginable
One of her methods was to photograph seemingly normal people, but in a way that
seemed to reveal false or unnerving “cracks” and characteristics.
The portrait of a proper, made-up “grand dame” titled “Woman
with a Veil on Fifth Avenue” comes across as slightly disconcerting and
not quite right. Her photos did not disguise flaws, physical or otherwise, and
viewers got a sense of the nature, and a glimpse into the souls, of these individuals.
Conversely, Arbus ventured into unknown or unconventional areas, snapping people
in mental institutions, nudist camps, carnivals and burlesque shows, as well
as transvestites, midgets, twins and street people. Her vision took her to unsavory
neighborhoods and potentially unsafe locations for weeks at a time. She said,
“Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience.
[These people] were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their
test in life…”
Wrapping up a three-year international tour, Diane Arbus Revelations
is beautifully curated and encompasses a large number of pieces from the artist’s
immense portfolio. The exhibit also offers browsable libraries, which display
diaries, letters, copious notes, books and works in progress. Some of her equipment
is also on view. The exhibit will appeal to photography buffs as well as amateurs
and contemporary art fans. Arbus lived a rich and fascinating life, and the
exhibit offers an educational and imaginative look into her world. ||
Reflections runs through Sept. 10 at the Walker
Art Center, 1750 Hennepin Ave. S., Mpls., 612-375-7600. Gallery hours are
Tue.–Wed. & Sat.–Sun. 11 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thu.–Fri.
11 a.m.–9 p.m. Closed Mon.