In 1956 Diane Arbus walked out of her job as a fashion photographer in search of another kind of fantasy. All over New York, she photographed eccentrics improvising life at the edges of the social — female impersonators, circus performers, tattoo artists, children. The resulting images were divisive. Arbus was drawn to these figures because of the fascinating glow that surrounded their ways of living, and while her images may capture this aura, they do so at the expense of meaningful context. Arbus could walk into these worlds with her own ideas and intentions, and then walk back out into ordinary life. As her most famous critic Susan Sontag put it, “Arbus’s interest in freaks expresses a desire to violate her own innocence.”
There are photos in line with the style Arbus is best known for, but more compelling are a curious set of pictures in which the grit of her most famous work is completely absent. These are images of everyday fantasy in which there is no pretence to a raw, outsider authenticity. Instead, what these pictures make palpable is the ordinary desire for fabrication of reality.
in the beginning showcases over 100 of the artist’s early photographs, more than half of which are published here for the first time. The book provides a crucial, in-depth presentation of the artist’s genesis, showing Arbus as she developed her evocative and often haunting imagery.