Diane Arbus is known to challenge the viewer and present a subject in a photograph to a viewer that is uncommon to the viewer’s eye. In the photograph above there is a man who is a giant and he is at home with his parents. The picture shows the dramatic difference in the subjects. This photograph was a part of the limited edition portfolio, which is also known as A box of ten photographs that was created in 1969-1971. The pictures in the portfolio were selected after the New Documents exhibition “The pictures that were selected constituted a kind of exhibition in and of themselves, to be examined on at a time rather than all at once” (Arbus 66). The photographs in the portfolio were meant for the viewer to focus and question. They were there to find the meaning and the uniqueness of the experience presented. Most of the Photographs in the portfolio depicted families or just refer to the idea of a family. In the photograph above the representation of family is present. Though Arbus purposely uses families that are not common, that are interesting in their own way Arbus states that she used him because he was a mythical figure enclosed in a modest Bronx living room. Arbus expresses the relationship with the subjects “The Jewish giant is tragic with a curious bitter somewhat stupid wit. The parents are orthodox and repressive and classic and disapprove of his carnival career…They are truly a metaphorical family. When he stands with his arms around each he looks like he would gladly crush them. They fight terribly in an utterly typical fashion which seems only exaggerated by their tradgedy…Arrogant, anguished, even silly” (Arbus 67). Arbus becomes a part of the family unit in a way. She learns how they interact with each other. It is not just a photograph that will be quickly snapped. Arbus becomes involved and interacts with her subjects, which I believe creates a more powerful photograph.
One of the reasons behind Arbus photographing the Jewish giant is to show the world what all is out there “I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them” Arbus stated in 1966 (Arbus 50). Arbus’s goal was to search for uncommon and to present it to everyone. After the death of Diane Arbus her possessions were sorted and many others came to a better understanding behind why she photographed what she did. The contents of her personal library suggest her deep interest in myth. Fairy tales and myth attracted Arbus, she wanted to find the real counterparts to the figures who inhibit these stories. The Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx 1970, Mexican dwarf in his hotel room 1970, N.Y.C, and Russian midget friends in a living room on 100th Street 1963, They are all examples of Arbus finding people that were different and in a way mythical because some viewers have never seen people that look like them “The subjects were like metaphors something people don’t dream about” (Arbus 50). Her work was to bring these people out from the dark and shock her viewers. That they are too be accepted even though they are different. Many other artist critized her work “People who don’t like Diane Arbus’s work call her a voyeur, a cold-hearted, cold-eyed exploiter of harmless perverts and geeks” (Arbus 50). Though she did not exploit her subjects, she wanted her photographs to be shocking, and powerful, and wanted to get people talking.
I think the reason that Arbus photographed people that were different because I think she viewed herself as different from society. She was expressing that she was different and so were others and that others should be accepted. She wanted to challenge society in seeing something outside the mold. Arbus’s photographs with the unique make me think of Adrian Pipers work. Adrian Pipers piece Catalysis III 1970 is about someone who is different she is African American. The photograph above is powerful and dramatic. Arbus wanted this photograph to be intense and she wanted the subject to dominate the viewer.
Bosworth, Patricia. Diane Arbus: A Biography. New York City: Avon, 1984.
Arbus, Diane. Diane Arbus: Revelations. New York City: Random House, 2003.