Quick search

Diane Arbus’s Photographic Work: an Idiosyncratic Picture of the Sixties

Bordeaux 3 University, France


CP, Number 16


No. 16 (2011)  Editorial


Diane Arbus’s photographic work is highly representative of sixties America. The major themes of the time—from the Vietnam War to women’s lib and the questioning of social and sexual roles—all are visible in her images. Yet she specialized in freaks of all kinds and, even when she photographed so-called normal or ordinary people, she managed to make them look grotesque, if not abnormal. Her portraits therefore have scarcely anything in common either with the traditional beauty canons, the pathetic faces taken by her predecessors or the stereotypes developed by fashion photography. They rather suggest parodic versions of all these. If Diane Arbus relied heavily on the grotesque mode, it was to convey a highly satiric message. In addition, all her images show a flaw or “punctum” (to take up Barthes’s word), which is not only thematic but also aesthetic. The flaw opens the conventional referential frame, or disfigures the figure, so as to signal mystery, polysemy—that is a metaphoric type of representation. Arbus’s portraits can be said to represent the American social landscape they were taken from.


Arbus, photography, sixties, freaks, personal photojournalism.

Code [ID]:

CP201116V00S01A0001 [0003784]

Copyright (c) 1995-2007 University of Bacău