Saturday, March 24, 2012

Fringe Dweller

Diane Arbus (1923 - 1976) was one of America's preeminent photographers of the 20th Century. Her work  fascinates me as it examined people who traditionally inhabited the 'grey' zones of society. From a position of great wealth she chose chose to portray people who would have made for uncomfortable viewing for the vast majority of the population. Her attraction to physical deformity, or self-inflicted physical changes, was accompanied by a focus on difference rather than homogeneity. 

In my past career as a postgraduate student at ANU my thesis was on 'Masculinity and Marginality in Ancient Rome'. An examination of attitudes to male prostitution in the 1st and 2nd Centuries opened the door to many prejudices which we could translate to the contemporary world. It also, somewhat surprisingly, illustrated the changes in our perception of what society viewed as 'normal'. What emerged for me was that people living on the boundaries of society formed the template for what was 'decent'. I think Arbus captured this in her choice of images and subjects. Possibly our discomfort stems from the fact that we need to be jolted by difference to make ourselves feel more acceptable?

Transvestite. Diane Arbus
Wrestlers. Diane Arbus
The Dan Twins. Diane Arbus

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