Diane Arbus – An Aperture Monograph

review by Douglas Stockdale

I recently had the opportunity to purchase a used copy of the Aperture Monograph of Diane Arbus, which had been reissued in softcover in 1997 as a twenty-five year anniversary issue. 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 Arbus’s suicide 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.

Arbus was recognized at the time as being in the artistic league of Eugene Atget, Walker Evans and Robert Frank. With her use of direct flash a little WeeGee (Arthur Fellis) thrown in.

I suspect that with the duotone separations completed by Robert Hennessey as printed in  in the book are very faithful to Arbus’s printed photographs. Some of the images that do not have a full tonal range were purposeful and are an interesting lesson for its own merits.

The eighty photographs within this book are not meant to be inclusive of Arbus’s entire body of work while it does provide many of her best known photographs. There are no photographs from the time before 1962 included as I feel that the publisher’s intent was not focus more on the personal projects that she undertook. There have been other books published about Arbus such as the SFMOMA Catalogue and Diane Arbus Revelations which I find more inclusive.

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

Best regards

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