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Diane Arbus
Quotes from Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph

Freaks was a thing I photographed a lot. It was one of the first things I photographed and it had a terrific kind of excitement for me. I just used to adore them. I still do adore some of them. I don't quite mean they're my best friends but they made me feel a mixture of shame and awe. There's a quality of legend about freaks. Like a person in a fairy tale who stops you and demands that you answer a riddle. Most people go through life dreading they'll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They've already passed their test in life. They're aristocrats.

I'm very little drawn to photographing people that are known or even subjects that are known. They fascinate me when I've barely heard of them and the minute they get public, I become terribly blank about them.

Sometimes I can see a photograph or a painting, I see it and I think, That's not the way it is. I don't mean a feeling of, I don't like it. I mean the feeling that this is fantastic, but there's something wrong. I guess it's my own sense of what a fact is. Something will come up in me very strongly of No, a terrific No. It's a totally private feeling I get of how different it really is.

I'm not saying I get it only from pictures I don't like. I also get it from pictures I like a lot. You come outdoors and all you've got is you and all photographs begin to fall away and you think, My God, it's really totally different. I don't mean you can do it precisely like it is, but you can do it more like it is.

I used to have this notion when I was a kid that the minute you said anything, it was no longer true. Of course it would have driven me crazy very rapidly if I hadn't dropped it, but there's something similar in what I'm trying to say. That once it's been done, you want to go someplace else. There's just some sense of straining.

Nudist camps was a terrific subject for me. I've been to three of them over a period of years. The first time I went was in 1963 when I stayed a whole week and that was really thrilling. It was the seediest camp and for that reason, for some reason, it was also the most terrific. It was really falling apart. The place was mouldy and the grass wasn't growing.

I had always wanted to go but I sort of didn't dare tell anybody. The director met me at the bus station because I didn't have a car so I got in his car and I was very nervous. He said, "I hope you realize you've come to a nudist camp." Well, I hope I realized I had. So we were in total agreement there. And then he gave me this speech saying, "You'll find the moral tone here is higher than that of the outside world." His rationale for this had to do with the fact that the human body is really not as beautiful as it's cracked up to be and when you look at it, the mystery is taken away.

They have these rules. I remember at one place there were two grounds for expulsion. A man could get expelled if he got an erection or either sex could get expelled for something like staring. They had a phrase for it. I mean you were allowed to look at people but you weren't allowed to somehow make a big deal of it.

It's a little bit like walking into an hallucination without being quite sure whose it is. I was really flabbergasted the first time. I had never seen that many men naked, I had never seen that many people naked all at once. The first man I saw was mowing his lawn.


 


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