Diane Arbus, a Biography by Patricia Bosworth (1984, Hardover)

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Diane Arbus, a Biography
by Patricia Bosworth
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Copyright 1984
Book Club Edition

Diane Arbus' startling images of dwarfs, twins, transvestites, and freaks seemed from the first to redefine both the normal and abnormal in our lives and were already becoming part of the iconography of the age when Arbus committed suicide in 1971.  Indeed, after her death, she quickly became a cult figure.  And yet she herself has remained an enigma -- her photographs only hinting at the complex mind that lay behind them.  Now Patricia Bosworth, author of the highly praised Montgomery Clift, has given us the first full biography of Arbus, a powerful, engrossing book that attempts to unravel the mystery of her personality and her eerie, mesmerizing art.

Diane Arbus was obsessed by visions.  Her dream was to photograph everybody in the world, and by the end of the 1960s her brilliant, edgy pictures of peace marches and art openings, her portraits of Mae West, Ozzie and Harriet, Viva, Gloria Vanderbilt's baby -- work she defined as "funk and news" -- has established her as a pioneer of the new photojournalism.  Her personal projects were more ambitious:  "people without their masks" discovered by her at Coney Island and at Hubert's Freak Museum on 42nd Street, at nudist colonies in New Jersey, at drag queen contests, at a home for retardates.  To Arbus, photography was an adventure and a photograph was "a secret about a secret; the more it tells you, the less you know."

She was born Diane Nemerov on May 14. 1923, and grew up pampered and isolated in Gothic apartment buildings in New York City, her most intense relationship with her older brother, the poet Howard Nemerov.  The Nemerov family owned Russeks department store on Fifth Avenue.  There was too much money, too little sympathy or understanding.

A passionate courtship followed by marriage at eighteen to Allan Arbus gave her an identity (during the 1950s she and Allan were highly successful fashion photographers for Vogue and Glamour).  But as a devoted wife and mother, she felt guilty about exploring and expressing her artistic impulses -- until in 1958 her teacher, Lisette Model, encouraged her to pursue "the forbidden" with her camera.  From then on nothing could stop her, and the depressions that had plagued her since childhood retreated for a time.

In this book, we follow Arbus' progress as a photographer -- coming to see how the work of others (in particular Walker Evans, Weegeem Robert Frank, and August Sander) influenced her, and how the "New Documents" exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art in 1967 was both a triumph for her (it legitimized her work and introduced it to the world) and an acceleration of her emotional decline (she feared that the photographs were misunderstood and felt that her new-found notoriety put inordinate pressure on her to continue to be productive and successful).  And also, through the voices of her friends and colleagues, of her mother, sister, and brother, we follow the dangerous and ultimately fatal course of her struggle to confront the fears and anguish that pursued her throughout her life.  Finally we come to understand why, despite growing recognition, she felt that her "gorgeous mountain of a life had become a desert," as she slipped closer and closer to the moment of utter despair.

This compassionate, and insightful, biography is a revelation of an artist of great talents -- an artist who needed to scrutinize the perverse, the alienated, and the strange not only in order to understand their lives, but in order to express the "mystery of existence" (theirs and, perhaps more important, her own), however unbearable, an artist whose legacy attests not only to an extraordinary artistic vision, but to the equally extraordinary woman behind it.

Condition:  Used.  Hardcover.  Dust cover.  Pages may be tanning and discolored from age.  Previous owner's "Library Of" stamp is on the front endpaper.  Dust cover and dust cover flaps are tanning and discolored from age and show a bit of edge wear.  Dust cover spine is darkened by age.

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    • ISBN 0394504046
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