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Diane Arbus’s 1960s

Auguries of Experience

2012
Author:

Frederick Gross

Diane Arbus’s 1960s

Looking past the myth of Diane Arbus to the depth of her achievement within the artistic, intellectual, and social currents of the 1960s

Frederick Gross returns Diane Arbus’s work to the moment in which it was produced and first viewed to reveal its broader significance for analyzing and mapping the culture of the 1960s. While providing a unique view of the social, literary, and artistic context within which Arbus worked, he also measures the true breadth and complexity of her achievement.

We may think we know everything about Diane Arbus just from looking at her photographs, but Frederick Gross has challenged the usual easy readings of Arbus as a gimlet eyed ironist by exploring the artist's philosophical, journalistic and political contexts in depth, and offering many surprising insights into her multifaceted motives and carefully arrived at methods. One comes away with a much enhanced appreciation of the complexity of Arbus's vision and the heroic dimensions of her empathetic activism. Such a study is especially important now because the artist's enormous cultural influence tends to obscure accurate hindsight into her development and process.

Glenn O’Brien

In any decade the work of only a very few artists offers a template for understanding the culture and ideas of their time. Photographer Diane Arbus is one of these rare artists, and in this book Frederick Gross returns Arbus’s work to the moment in which it was produced and first viewed to reveal its broader significance for analyzing and mapping the culture of the 1960s. While providing a unique view of the social, literary, and artistic context within which Arbus worked, he also, perhaps for the first time anywhere, measures the true breadth and complexity of her achievement.

Gross considers Arbus less in terms of her often mythologized biography—a “Sylvia Plath with a camera”—but rather looks at how her work resonates with significant photographic portraiture, art, social currents, theoretical positions, and literature of her times, from Robert Frank and Richard Avedon to Andy Warhol and Truman Capote. He shows how her incandescent photographs seem to literalize old notions of photography as trapping a layer of the subject’s soul within the frame of a picture. For Arbus, “auguries”—as in “Auguries of Innocence,” her 1963 photographic spread in Harper’s Bazaar—conveyed the idea that whoever was present in her photograph could attain legendary status.

By shifting critical attention from the myths of Arbus’s biography to the mythmaking of her art, this book gives us a new, informed appreciation of one of the twentieth century’s most important photographers and a better understanding of the world in which she worked.

Diane Arbus’s 1960s

Frederick Gross is professor of art history at the Savannah College of Art and Design. His writing has been published in periodicals such as Cabinet and Afterimage and in the volume Global and Local Art Histories.

Diane Arbus’s 1960s

We may think we know everything about Diane Arbus just from looking at her photographs, but Frederick Gross has challenged the usual easy readings of Arbus as a gimlet eyed ironist by exploring the artist's philosophical, journalistic and political contexts in depth, and offering many surprising insights into her multifaceted motives and carefully arrived at methods. One comes away with a much enhanced appreciation of the complexity of Arbus's vision and the heroic dimensions of her empathetic activism. Such a study is especially important now because the artist's enormous cultural influence tends to obscure accurate hindsight into her development and process.

Glenn O’Brien

Gross skillfully discusses a range of subjects (e.g., documentary photography, portraiture, the body, the social climate) and how they relate to Arbus and her work. Highly recommended for all photography and art collections as well as for photography enthusiasts.

Library Journal

Demonstrates that even an artist such as Diane Arbus, whose work and life are so well categorized that there seems to be no need for further research, can be opened again for new readings.

Leonardo Online

Diane Arbus’s 1960s

Preface: “Sylvia Plath with a Camera”

Introduction: Between Intention and Effect

1. Documentary Photography and the Positivist Social Gallery

2. Portraits, Pastiche, and Magazine Work

3. The Body in the 1960s

4. Madness, Disability, and the “Untitled” Series

5. The Social Panorama in Context

Revelations: Darkness and Illumination