The photograph above is called “Two Ladies at the Automat.” This is a photograph by Diane Arbus who photographed two men dressed as women as they were having lunch in New York City. These men were transvestites that were proud of whom they were. They were lavishly dressed up and ready to be out on the town in New York. Arbus purposely sought out these young men, which is what she did for most of her subjects. She photographed them because they were different to American Society. Arbus sought out the unfamiliar and wanted to document her experiences. When saying she documented her experiences she really did have an experience with the subject she photographs. Arbus’s work is not snap shot work like a similar photographers Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander; which were both in the show at The Museum of Modern Art called New Documents in 1967 with arbus. Arbus researched people that were thought of as different or unique. She would travel to find these people and get to know who they were and wanted to document not only her experience but their life story. In the 1960’s transvestites were not accepted or common to see in American society. Having this uniqueness to them intrigued Arbus. She purposely looked for the unusual.
The search for the uncommon was what most of her career consisted of after she finished her days as a fashion photographer. Arbus used these “women” to show the viewer something, “she shows us that clothing as self expression, as art” (Arbus 50). What they are wearing expresses who they are and how they perceive themselves. This reminds me of Stephen Willats art when he created shirt kits. That everyone would express themselves and express themselves as artist. Arbus embraces their lifestyle and their identity “ Her camera is not judgmental, detached, though it compels us to acknowledge that at some point we are creatures of fashion caught in the oncoming headlights” (Arbus 50). It was real, it was current, it was what she wanted the world to see without judgment, that this was a normal lifestyle for two people even though it may seem completely abnormal to the viewer.
I was drawn to this picture because of the way the women in the picture looked at the camera. When I look at this photograph I feel that the women are looking at me. That type of power makes the viewer really look and understand the photograph. Arbus stated that “ Everyone wants to be viewed one way but everyone sees the opposite, the first thing people see is the flaw” (Arbus 56). She wants and expects the viewer to challenge what they think. When I first looked at the photograph I knew something was not right with the women, I immediately found a flaw. The “women were men. I could see their penciled in eye brows, hairy hands, and a slight adams apple protruding from their necks. The “women” in the picture want me to view them as women but I, a viewer, found their flaw. Arbus understands how society views and reacts to things such as a situation like “Two Ladies at the Automat” and she wants to challenge the viewer.
Arbus, Diane. Diane Arbus: Revelations. New York City: Random House, 2003.
Bosworth, Patricia. Diane Arbus: A Biography. New York City: Avon, 1984.