Socialist Worker

Diane Arbus used her photographs to tell stories

by Alistair Farrow
Issue No. 2642

Arbus’s subjects met her gaze

Arbus’s subjects met her gaze


Diane Arbus’s portraits grab your attention and challenge you.

There are over a hundred of her earlier photographs at the Hayward Gallery’s new exhibition of her work.

The pieces are laid out unusually—columns are spaced evenly throughout the gallery and each have a photo hung on opposite sides.

The effect is to create enclosed spaces within the two large rooms which form the gallery.

Arbus captures people at their most raw—exhausted, angry and vulnerable.

There are some remarkable images on display, and others which are problematic.

Many of the pictures are of people performing at fairgrounds in the 1950s—giants, dwarves and conjoined twins, for instance.

And there is an element of the embarrassing body-type TV programme about some of these photos.

“I think it does, a little, hurt to be photographed,” she said at one point. It’s easy to see why, particularly in the case of her subjects.

Arbus seems to challenge them with her camera, and some of the people stare back with a look of defiance.

In an adjoining gallery is a retrospective of Kader Attia’s work from the last 20 years.

His pieces explore the legacy of colonialism and imperialism today.

He takes aim at the dominance of Western cultural norms as well as documenting the lives of Arabs living in the slums of Paris.

On display is Attia’s installation piece which combines images of the First World War with wooden sculptures.

Diane Arbus—In the Beginning and Kader Attia—The Museum of Emotion
Hayward Gallery,
London
£15.50

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