collage by nacrowe
when looking at a DIANE ARBUS photograph what you are witnessing firsthand is an experiential document of an alternative AMERICAN narrative from the not-too-distant 1960s and 70s. her subjects run the gamut from drag queens, side show performers, twins, children, the developmentally challenged, the elderly and those that challenge normative culture with their unique perspective lived experience regarding issues of identity: specifically that of gender, race and sexual identity.
i don't find these images shocking, but for those who do i think it is due to the shallow nature of representation in our media diet of the true scope of lived experience in our country. too often we are marketed and sold images that placate our national sense of self, which is youth-driven.
this media reflection is the real freak show. it distorts our self-perception and makes those that fall outside our collective limited conceptions of beauty and what constitutes "normal" as being outliers that should be disregarded. this is to blame in my opinion for our infantilized views regarding issues surrounding sexual reproduction, death, aging, health and even family.
when i see her work i am reminded of once underground communities that have since been brought more prominently to the foreground of acknowledged lived experience. they don't seem that alternative anymore in the face of newer "others" to be castigated and dismissed (Muslims, Hispanics, Africans, Chinese, etc). not to get all BUDDHIST here, but i will be. there is no other. there is no dividing line between you, me and all sentient beings on the planet. it is all a shared experience. to deny the existence of others is only damaging yourself by extension.
famously the historical BUDDHA, the prince SIDDARTHA GUATAMA, as a kid lived in a palace where he was only surrounded by young, invigorated, healthy people that his father the king purposely put in place within its confines. one day when outside he saw the reality of the aging process and sickness and death. his self-perception and sense of reality was called into question and his life decisions took such into consideration accordingly. it was his real-life ALLEGORY OF THE CAVE played in a way PLATO may have not even imagined, as he used knowledge to further his goal of understanding reality minus blinders of greed and self-interest in the purpose of liberating his fellow sentient beings.
this is all well and good, but i know, again some would argue that the portraits of DIANE ARBUS are exploitative and her subjects the objects of revulsion or titillation. i'd argue that wholly depends on the viewer. if your limited scope of lived experience doesn't include these people than perhaps you should reconsider whether it is you that is being exploited by your feeble ignorance.
read a book. go outside (not during the pandemic). live a little. see the world for what it truly is in all its inclusive diversity.