The book is a series of Diane Arbus’s ‘Freaks’. A collection of square format black and white prints which celebrate the diversity of human kind. Dominated by portraiture, Arbus also reflects on interior spaces, almost like a anthropological study. She explains that she likes going into people’s houses and understanding how they decorate it. Her portraits are straight and dead-pan; although Arbus explains that she has a conversation with her subjects to put her subjects (and herself) at ease, the viewer is met with discomfort. There is no written context for the viewer to examine much further with fact. This allows the viewer to create their own stories and ask their own questions about the work. Arbus says: “What I’m trying to describe that it is impossible to get out of your skin into somebody elses. and that’s what all this is a little bit about. That somebody else’s tragedy is not the same as your own”
Her series of work not only reflects her interest in portraiture and interiors, but can be used a social study of the 1960s: identifying fashion, technology as well as social prejudices.
In Susan Sontag’s book, ‘On Photography’, she suggests that Diane Arbus was angry with the fact that she led a privileged life. She chose ‘freaks’ so that we wouldn’t judge them. It may seem that Arbus was in conflict with a judgmental society, but in harmony with the people in it, through her photography.
I chose this book because I haven’t revisited it since my first year at university. Being drawn to colour the last couple of years I wanted to step back. Arbus’s method of meeting people she liked the look of (or freaks), talking to them and then photographing them is a real talent, one I aspire to have. She looks at the world differently; she doesn’t see the flaws, but honours them and makes them the norm for her photographic practice. I guess they are her trademark, but it is only a reflection of her inquisitive character.
Specific images – describe & explain
Identical twins, Roselle, N.J. 1967
Two girls (aged 6-ish) with dark hair held back by lightly colours head bands. They had light eyes (probably blue) and identical dark dresses with light collars, cuffs and patterned tights. They stand shoulder to shoulder, absolutely identical, apart from their facial expression.
I chose this image because I feel compelled to ask questions about them: the juxtaposition of their facial expression makes me look deeper into the image. In fact, they aren’t quite as identical as what it first may seem: the ‘happier’ twin is more dominant: she is taller and the eye naturally falls to her.
A young man and his pregnant wife in Washington Square Park, N.Y.C, 1965
A couple sat on a bench with a tree bark directly behind (covering the left hand side of the frame). The man is sat on the left, young (early twenties) and black, the woman on the right has a sixties bee hive with Dame Edna style glasses and a rose patterned dress. She is white. His arm casually swung around her neck and the other holding her arm.
This is a hugely controversial image for its time with society damning inter-racial relations. It is clear of just how liberally minded Arbus in a time of such prejudice. This image for a 21st century viewer is not considered very shocking, thus probably now needs more context; however, publishing this image was indicative of Arbus’s confidence in a more open-minded society. Making images like these the norm. I admire this photograph not so much for its contents, but more for Arbus’s bravery to stick to her opinion and follow it through.
Arbus’s theme of freaks is beautiful celebration of minority groups of people. Her book acts as a physical device which allows the viewer to be completely dissolved with the people, seeing them as the norm, and not as outcasts.
“You see someone on the street and essentially what you notive about them is the flaw”
“freaks were born with their trauma. they’ve already passed their test in life. they’re aristocrats”