A display of almost 100 of Diane Arbus’s photographs opens this week in diane arbus: in the beginning at the Hayward Gallery (13 February to 6 May 2019).
The American photographer’s solo exhibition looks at the formative first half of her career, from 1956 to 1962, when she developed the direct, psychologically acute style for which she later became so widely celebrated.
Arbus captured portraits of New Yorkers, from the rich to the poor, from Times Square to Coney Island, from couples to children to solitary city dwellers to carnival performers to strippers to transgender people. The exhibition traces Arbus’s growth from her early work with a 35mm camera to the distinctive square format she began using in 1962.
Within that time, Arbus took a different approach to photography from her peers. As she documented individuals, she interacted closely with her chosen subjects. Often other photographers at the time, such as Walker Evans, Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander, would play the role of passive observer or even conceal their cameras. Arbus’s images, instead, were fuelled by direct encounters with her subjects.
Her work raises thoughts about seeing and being seen. There’s a silent exchange on both sides of the camera just as there is among urban residents every single day.
“I mean it’s very subtle and a little embarrassing to me, but I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them,” Arbus once said.
About half of the photographs on display have never been shown in Europe. Each photograph is presented on an individual wall, and visitors are encouraged by gallery curators to navigate their own routes through the exhibition. This approach provides a glimpse into the one-on-one experience Arbus navigated with her photography.
diane arbus: in the beginning
Hayward Gallery, Southbank Centre, 337-338 Belvedere Rd, Lambeth, London SE1 8XX
13 February to 6 May