Previously unseen Diane Arbus photographs are about to get a public eye, and will be unveiled at the Levy Gorvy gallery in New York City. The iconic Jewish photographer captured New York City’s marginalized community from the ’40s until her death in 1971. Arbus, who lived near Central Park and Washington Square Park, largely shot in those two iconic Manhattan outdoor spaces.
Arbus, who commit suicide in 1971, is best known for her provocative, raw portraits of NYC dwellers who often were overlooked in other media–one of her most famous pieces is a photo titled “Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park.” Another is “Identical Twins.”
Some of the previously unpublished photos in the exhibit include a photo of Susan Sontag and of her son sitting on a park bench in 1965.
Her work, which was seen as controversial at the time (especially since she was a woman), inspired much criticism–and a largely mixed legacy. For instance, Sontag referred to the late photographer’s subjects as ”people who are pathetic, pitiable, as well as repulsive,” and then called the art itself, ”based on distance, on privilege, on a feeling that what the viewer is asked to look at is really other.”
The History of Photography stated in 2012: “The obsessive, self-indulgent, no-holds-barred quality of Diane Arbus’s life, and the helpless, desperate nature of her death, have led to the photographer’s being portrayed as a spectacularly flawed shooting star of photographic history.” Arbus, who suffered from depression, was the mother of two daughters–and divorced her husband Allan Arbus in 1969.
Meanwhile, critic Robert Hughes stated in 1972 that Arbus “altered our experience of the face,” and in 1967, art historian Max Kozloff wrote that Arbus’ photographs have “an extraordinary ethical conviction.”
That being said, Arbus herself discussed why she photographed the marginalized community, as pointed out by Gothamist:
“There were young hippie junkies down one row. There were lesbians down another, really tough amazingly hard-core lesbians. And in the middle were winos. They were like the first echelon and the girls who came from the Bronx to become hippies would have to sleep with the winos to get to sit on the other part with the junkie hippies. It was really remarkable. And I found it very scary… I was very keen to get close to them, so I had to ask to photograph them.”
If you live in New York City, check out the exhibit “Diane Arbus: In the Park” at Levy Gorvy Gallery at 909 Madison Avenue from May 2nd to June 24th. If you don’t, you can check out this film, “Fur,” about her life, in which she’s portrayed by Nicole Kidman.