Diane Arbus, The Jeu de Paume, Paris

*Diane Arbus displays her “Child With Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park” (1963)

I have long admired Diane Arbus’s tenacity.

She unearths pain and the private parts of people.

Susan Sontag’s essay, “Melanchology Objects,” puts it’s plainly,

Arbus’s photography developed out of the Whitmanesque landscape,

the belief that “America, that surreal county, is full of found objects.

Our junk has become art.  Our junk has become history.”

Arbus herself famously said,

“I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do —

that was one of my favorite things about it, and when I first did it, I felt very perverse.”


The current exhibit of Arbus’s work on display at the Jeu de Paume

in Paris

is not only exacting in that it includes excerpts from Arbus’s journals and private musings,

it is exhaustive, encompassing nearly two floors and each of her consummate projects.

The following is an except from a dream in Arbus’s 1959 Notebook.

“I am in an enormous ornate white gorgeous hotel wich is on fire, dormed, but the fire is burning so slowly that people are still allowed to come and go freely. I can’t see the fire but smoke hangs thinly everywhere especially around the lights. It is terribly pretty. I am in a hurry and I want to photograph most awfully. I go to our rooms to get what I must save and I cannot find it whatever it is. My grandmother is around, perhaps in the next room. I do not know what I am looking for, what I must save, how soon the building will collapse, what I must do, how long I may photograph. Maybe I don’t even have film or can’t find my camera. I am constantly interrupted. Everyone is busy and wandering around but it’s quiet and a little slowed. The elevators are golden. It’s like the sinking Titanic…I am filled with delight but anxious and confused and cannot get to the photographing. My whole life is there. It is a sort of calm but painfully blocked ecstasy like when a baby is coming and the attendants ask you to hold back because they aren’t ready. I am almost overcome with delight but plagued by the interruptions of it. There are cupids carved in the ceilings. Perhaps I will be unable to photograph if I save anything including the camera and myself. I am strangely alone although people are around. They keep disappearing. No one tells me what to do but I worry lest I am neglecting them or not doing something I am supposed to do. It is like an emergency in slow motion. I am in the eye of the storm.”

*Diane Arbus, excerpt from current exhibit at The Jeu de Paume, Paris


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