Diane Arbus: in the beginning Haywood gallery
Photographer Diane Arbus was born in New York in 1923 and began her career in the early 1950’s using a camera given to her by her husband Alan (also a photographer) Although she made a living doing magazine photo shoots she is best remembered for her Street photography; spur of the moment images documenting the lives of various citizens of the New York streets she inhabited.
she was particularly drawn to children and performers; famously photographing drag queens and circus acts.
This particular exhibition is looking at the early part of her photographic career from 1956- 1962. The images chosen are taken from a selection of negatives gifted to the metropolitan art museum by Diane’s daughters Doon and Amy.
The exhibition was curated by Jeff L Rosenheim curator of photography at the Metropolitan museum in New York, and I was lucky enough to be able jump on a friends plus one to hear him give a guided tour of the show, we were also joined by Diane’s daughter Amy (also a photographer) who gave us some interesting insights into her mother’s work.
Mr Rosenheim was an engaging and enthusiastic speaker, his affinity with Arbus’s work stemming from his student days in the early 1970’s when he lived in the building which housed Diane’s dark room, he was also involved In 1st London exhibition (also at the Haywood gallery) in 1974.
The method of presentation was interesting, as Mr Rosenheim exclaimed ‘This is probably the only exhibition you’ll ever see where there are no pictures on the walls’. Instead the images are displayed on rows of rectangular columns which he likened to trees in a forest and explained that just like a walk through a forest everyone can pick their own path to explore the show, which is a beautiful idea and works well in the sense that you can’t see more than one row ahead so you have to take your time to work your way through them, plus the fact the pictures are quite small forces you to focus on them more and notice details that you might otherwise have overlooked. The photographs are not arranged in any order in fact Mr Rosenheim had deliberately tried to break any obvious links between them, again his idea being that if you don’t know what your going to see next your less likely to rush your way through to the end. - Although that said his logic did come unstuck at one point when He was trying to demonstrate a connection between two photographs and ended up getting lost between the rows!
The exhibition features a hugely wide range of subject matter; from pouting twin girls to gruesome autopsy photos, grinning tramps and society grand dames, making Diane Arbus’s work a perfectly preserved cross section of New York in the mid 20th century. To walk through is fascinating and stirs up a sense of nostalgia for the immediate past. For me this was perfectly captured in a picture of a living room from 1962; familiar but definitely not how we live anymore.
Although Mr Rosenheim had carefully constructed the show in such a way as to harken back to a slower more analog age, there was still something weirdly digital about the method of presentation. possibly the idea of being confronted with a row of small images that you could choose to either ‘scroll’ passed or zoom in on.
This left me wondering how Diane Arbus might have fared in the age of Instagram, to be honest I think with such a strong personal style she would do quite well or at least I’d certainly give her a follow! But You’ll have to see the exhibition for yourself and draw your own conclusions