17: DIANE ARBUS, A family one evening in a nudist camp,
A family one evening in a nudist camp, PA, 1965. Gelatin silver print. 38 × 36 cm (14 7/8 × 14 1/8 in) Stamped ‘a diane arbus print’, signed, dated ‘1972’, numbered ‘#4090-12-6U-1620’ by Doon Arbus, Administrator, in ink, copyright credit and reproduction limitation stamps on the verso.
PROVENANCE Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
LITERATURE Diane Arbus, Aperture, 1972, n.p. T. Southall, Diane Arbus: Magazine Work, Aperture, 1984, p. 68 H. Weski, T. Liesbrock, How You Look at It: Photographs of the 20th Century, 2000, p. 294 Arbus, Sussman, Phillips, Selkirk, Rosenheim, Diane Arbus: Revelatio
“That woman, Arbus, had an ability – what do you call it? Uncanny – to take photographs of things you think are hidden or want to keep hidden. Forget that we thought we were naked. I was never really naked until that picture – do you see what I mean? She took pictures of the thoughts, feelings, things you might not even know existed inside yourself. It wasn’tthat she made you look one way or another, she made you look exactly like yourself. Horribly yourself, whoever you were. Is that beauty? If you can accept it, I think it might be.”(A.M. Homes, ‘Nudist Exposed’, Modern Painters, Spring 2004) This image by Arbus was taken at Sunnyrest, a nudist colony in Pennsylvania, as part of the Washington Square project she was working on at the time. What is remarkable about this series of images – apart from the fact that at the time she was a lesser-known fashion photographer, used to assignments where clothes were the main focus – is the decade in which these brave, very ‘naked’ images were taken.During the 1960s, when genteel ladies still often wore hats and gloves daily, to be nude in an everyday situation was a radical act, and these people considered themselves pioneers. The naturalists came from all walks of life: accountants, schoolteachers, people working for huge corporations. Was this their mischievous way of acting out a desire to be free in what was otherwise a very regular existence? Arbus had a strong sense of otherness, an unfailing talent for revealing the strangeness of the familiar, and the contradictions of human existence. Even though the people depicted here considered themselves perfectly ordinary, Arbus succeeds in bringing out the extraordinary in her subjects.The work is also interesting on a technical level. In 1962 there was a marked shift in Arbus’s technique, when she adopted 2 ¼ inch format film, printing her square pictures on 11 × 14 inch paper. In 1965 – the year this photograph was taken – there was a second notable change: she began printing her images with thick black irregular borders, as canbe seen in this image. For many subsequent years the distinctive black border continued to be a feature of her oeuvre, leading us to believe that it struck Arbus as an important addition to the composition.
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