Diane Arbus

With this year marking the twentieth anniversary of Diane Arbus’ death, a reexamination of her work is timely. An exhibition of known and unknown photographs by Diane Arbus wil be on view at Fraenkel Gallery, 49 Geary Street, San Francisco, from October 24 through November 30, 1991. Many of the photographs will be on exhibit to the public for the first time.

Diane Arbus was a singular and explosive force in photography, reshaping both the way pictures are made and our response to them. Her unrelentingly direct photographs of people who live on the edge of social acceptance, as well as those photographs depicting supposedly “normal” people in a way that sharply outlines the cracks in their public masks, were controversial at the time of their creation and remain so today. Her subjects are poignant in their willingness to reveal themselves to the camera. John Szarkowski, former Director of Photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York has written:

“Arbus knew that honesty is not a gift, endowed by 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 subjects 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.”

In addition to some of the well known images in the exhibition (Two Ladies at the Automat, Puerto Rican Woman with Beauty mark) a number of previously unexhibitied photographs will be included. This latter group will include several virtually unknown images from Arbus’ early 35mm work, as well as later images including Three Circus Ballerinas, Waitress at a nudist camp, and Bishop by the Sea.

The exhibition will also include pictures from the Unititled series, work made in the last years of her life (1970 and 1971) at a home for retarded adults. In these images Arbus explored human limits and questions of identity and truth, which culminated her fifteen years as a photographer.

Arbus was awarded Guggenheim Fellowships in 1963 and 1966 and was included with Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander in the now-legendary exhibition “New Documents” at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. A major retrospective at MOMA was mounted in 1972, one year after her death.