Diane Arbus: Nineteen Faces

“Diane Arbus seems to have been connected to her subjects by a magnetic bond that somehow survived the mechanical rigors of the photographic process. This bond is the source of her formidable power, and it is evident in almost all her pictures. The intimacy it creates disturbs us most when the subject is one from which we would, in life, avert our eyes…”—Owen Edwards, American Photographer

Diane Arbus is unquestionably one of the most influential photographers of her generation. Nineteen close-up studies of faces by Diane Arbus will be on view at Fraenkel Gallery, 55 Grant Avenue from March 1 through April 8.

Photographs in the exhibition range from 1965 through 1970 including several rarely seen images such as Girl in a watch cap, New York City, 1966 and a portrait of Mae West, 1965 in her bedroom.

Throughout her career, Arbus often brought her camera perilously close to the faces of her subjects. In the finished prints, the faces frequently filled the frame, making them larger than life and, in turn, dwarfing the face of the viewer. Well-known examples of this include Puerto Rican woman with a beauty mark, New York City, 1965, Woman with a veil on Fifth Avenue, New York City, 1968 and the Buddha-like visage of Anderson Hayes Cooper, 1967. In this way, Arbus brings us closer to her subjects than most everyday opportunities would allow, often to the discomfort of the viewer.

Diane Arbus was a singular and explosive force in photography, reshaping both the ways pictures are made and our response to them. John Szarkowski, Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York has written:

“Arbus knew that honesty is not a gift, endowed by a native naiveté, nor a matter of style, or politics, or philosophy. She knew rather that it is a reward bestowed for bravery in the face of the truth. …Arbus did not avert her eyes. She stuck with her subject exploring their secrets (and thus her own) more and more deeply. She was surely aware of the danger of this path, but she believed that her bravery would be equal to the demands she made of it.”