The Hayward Gallery presents a new exhibition entitled diane arbus: in the beginning, which includes nearly 100 photographs. The exhibition takes an in-depth look at the formative first half of Diane Arbus’ career, from 1956 to 1962, when the artist began to develop the style for which she later became celebrated.
Presented across the upper floor of the Hayward Gallery, this exhibition includes some fifty photographs which have never been shown in Europe, all vintage prints from the Diane Arbus Archive at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
In the exhibition, each photograph is presented on an individual free-standing wall and visitors are encouraged to navigate their own individual routes through the exhibition. Walking around these small mazes, visitors can give full attention to the portraits of a wide spectrum of post war American society. Arbus discovered the majority of her subjects in New York City and depicts a cross-section of urban life which including portraits of couples and children, local characters, carnival performers, strippers, and transvestites.
Diane Arbus first began taking pictures in the early 1940s when she was working with her husband, Allan Arbus in a fashion photography business. She studied photography with Berenice Abbott in the 1940s and Alexey Brodovitch in the mid-1950s. After attending Lisette Model’s photographic workshop in 1956, Arbus decided to pursue her own style of work.
In the early sixties, Arbus began to turn her back on her 35mm camera and started working with a square format (2 1/4-inch twin-lens reflex) camera. Her portraits using this new format began to be recognised as a distinctive feature of her work. The photographs range from the mundane, Boy stepping off the curb, N.Y.C. 1957–58 to the bizarre, Jack Dracula at a bar, New London, Conn. 1961 and often offer a grainy surreal quality.
Whilst some photographs have the instant quality of street photography, others tend to be more traditional portraits. Arbus’ style began to get noticed and she was awarded Guggenheim Fellowships in 1963 and 1966 for her project on ‘American Rites, Manners, and Customs.’ However her work was not widely known and was not financially rewarding.
To create more financial security, Arbus made a portfolio of original prints entitled ‘A box of ten photographs’, which was meant to be the first in a series of limited editions of her work. The exhibition concludes with a separate gallery presenting A box of ten photographs, the portfolio Arbus produced in 1970 and 1971 comprising some of her best known works in square format including Identical twins, Roselle, N.J. 1967 and A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y. 1970.
Arbus committed suicide in 1971 and since her death as been an artist that has often divided opinion. While many have praised the way that Arbus engages with direct personal encounters with her subjects. Others have suggested her choice of subjects led to an exploitative type of ‘Freak’ show.
The Hayward Gallery was the first UK institution to exhibit Diane Arbus’ photographs in a major retrospective back in 1974 and now offers visitors the opportunity of considering the legacy of one of the influential American photographers of the mid 20th century.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
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