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Diane Arbus redefined the concerns and the range of the art she practiced. Her bold subject matter and photographic approach have established her preeminence in the world of the visual arts. Her gift for rendering strange those things we consider most familiar, and uncovering the familiar within the exotic, enlarges our understanding of ourselves.
Diane Arbus Revelations affords the first opportunity to explore the origins, scope, and aspirations of what is a wholly original force in photography. Arbus’s frank treatment of her subjects and her faith in the intrinsic power of the medium have produced a body of work that is often shocking in its purity, in its steadfast celebration of things as they are. Presenting many of her lesser-known or previously unpublished photographs in the context of the iconic images reveals a subtle yet persistent view of the world.
The book reproduces two hundred full-page duotones of Diane Arbus photographs spanning her entire career, many of them never before seen. It also includes an essay, “The Question of Belief,” by Sandra S. Phillips, senior curator of photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and “In the Darkroom,” a discussion of Arbus’s printing techniques by Neil Selkirk, the only person authorized to print her photographs since her death. A 104-page Chronology by Elisabeth Sussman, guest curator of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art show, and Doon Arbus, the artist’s eldest daughter, illustrated by more than three hundred additional images and composed mainly of previously unpublished excerpts from the artist’s letters, notebooks, and other writings, amounts to a kind of autobiography. An Afterword by Doon Arbus precedes biographical entries on the photographer’s friends and colleagues by Jeff L. Rosenheim, associate curator of photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. These texts help illuminate the meaning of Diane Arbus’s controversial and astonishing vision.
I want to photograph the considerable ceremonies of our present because we tend while living here and now to perceive only what is random and barren and formless about it. While we regret that the present is not like the past and despair of its ever becoming the future, its innumerable inscrutable habits lie in wait for their meaning...These are our symptoms and our monuments. I want simply to save them, for what is ceremonious and curious and commonplace will be legendary.
Diane Arbus–born Diane Nemerov in New York City in 1923–first began taking pictures in the early 1940s following her marriage to Allan Arbus. She studied photography with Berenice Abbott, Alexey Brodovitch, and Lisette Model. Her first published photographs appeared in Esquire in 1960. Over the next ten years her work continued to appear in Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, and other magazines.
In 1963 and 1966 she was awarded John Simon Guggenheim Fellowships. She was one of three photographers whose work was the focus of New Documents, a 1967 exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art. In 1970 Arbus made a portfolio of prints entitled A box of ten photographs, which was to be the first of a series of similar limited editions of her work. She taught photography in the late sixties at Parsons School of Design, Rhode Island School of Design, and Cooper Union, and, in 1971, gave a private master class at the artists’ cooperative where she lived.
A year after her death in 1971, her work was selected for inclusion at the Venice Biennale–the first work of an American photographer to be so honored. The Museum of Modern Art hosted a major retrospective that traveled throughout the United States and Canada from 1972 to 1975. The three books of her work, Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph (1972), Diane Arbus: Magazine Work (1984), and Untitled: Diane Arbus (1995), were published posthumously and have remained continuously in print. Diane Arbus Revelations, in conjunction with the first major international retrospective of her work in thirty years, is the only comprehensive and intimate study of this singularly daring photographic artist.