The PhotoBook

October 14, 2008

Diane Arbus – An Aperture Monograph

Filed under: Book Reviews, Photo Books — Doug Stockdale @ 3:47 pm

I recently had the opportunity to purchase a copy of the Aperture Monograph of Diane Arbus, which had been reissued as a softcover in 1997 as a twenty-five year anniversary issue. As always with a retrospective look at a photographers body of work, there is an opportunity to see how well it weathers the test of time.

The original publication of this book in 1972 was in conjunction with the retrospective exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art (NYC) after her sucicide in 1971. She already had been awarded two Guggenheim Fellowships (1963 & 1966) and had been one of three photographers included in the 1967 MoMA exhibition “New Documents“, along with Gary Winogrand and Lee Friedlander.

Thus she was recognized at the time as in the direct photographic methodology of Eugene Atget, Walker Evans and Robert Frank. And perhaps with her use of direct flash, a little WeeGee (Arthur Fellis) thrown in.

I suspect that with the duotone seperations completed by Robert Hennessey, the images in the book are very faithful to Arbus’s printed photograhic intent. Thus some of the images that do not illustrate the full tonal range were purposeful, and are an interesting lesson on their own merits.

The eighty photographs within this book are not meant to be all inclusive of Arbus’s body of work, but it does provide her best known photographs. Additionally, there are no photographs before 1962, but again, I do feel that the intent was to be a complete biography, but more about the personal projects that she undertook. There have been other books published about Arbus, such as the SFMOMA Catalogue, Diane Arbus Revelations, which are more inclusive.

My principal (and minor) gripe with the book is the sequencing of the photographs, as they are not chronological to provide a better grasp of the development of her vision and photography.  One plus is the capture of some of Arbus’s lectures just prior to her death, to help place her photographs in a context of her intent. I had read about her lectures & writing, but had experienced it secondhand, thus it is a nice benefit to read them directly.

Best regards, Doug Stockdale

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