Helmut Newton, Steven Meisel, Tony Richardson, Cindy Sherman, Nan Goldin: the list of fashion photographers and commentators influenced by Diane Arbus is long and illustrious. Which is hardly surprising. From her candid pictures of everyday faces to her shockingly stark portrayals of ugliness, deformity and mental illness, her oblique take on life uncovered a previously ignored world of society’s marginalised and dispossessed.
When Arbus began to be taken seriously, in the early 1960s, her photographs of “freaks” were widely considered to be in bad taste. They were – deliberately. She believed that only by facing the imperfections of the human race could we begin to exercise humanity. A former fashion photographer, she found – and taught us to find – a strange and moving beauty in a world that had been kept hidden. Like all powerful visions, hers has been exploited so successfully that images of the bizarre and disaffected have become part of fashion iconography. Arbus committed suicide in 1971, but if she were still alive today, she would surely be horrified by the way her vision has been annexed by the commercial mainstream.
(First published October 2005)
Picture. Photograph by Diane Arbus. Two Ladies at the Automat. New York. 1966
Copyright Ã‚Â© 1980 The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC