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It was on this day in 1971 that Diane Arbus committed suicide by eating a handful of downers, slashing her wrists, and lying down in her bathtub. She’d been a little crazy all her life, according to the biography I read a few years ago. I can relate, although I’ve never been close to offing myself. Perhaps that’s why I am a good but not great photographer; not quite crazy enough.

The thing I really like about Arbus is that she while she was a successful freelance photographer, she spent a lot of her time navigating the lives of people we would think of as freaks and weirdos. Circus midgets and transvestites and giants and other types that most of us wouldn’t want to hang around with. She didn’t to it to sensationalize them as a lot of people would have, she found them quite dignified and respectable. Consider this quote:

Most people go through life dreading that they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks are born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats.

How could you not love someone who would say something like that.

Still, I can’t say that I enjoy Arbus’ work as much as I respect it. She was an explorer in a region of humanity that most people would not choose to visit and I tend to view her photographs with a sense of morbid fascination, like one might approach a car wreck or a burning building. Maybe that’s just more evidence that I’m not quite as crazy as I should be.

Child with Toy Hand Grenade (Diane Arbus, 1962)

At any rate, anyone who might want to call him/her self a photographer can’t really afford to ignore Arbus’ legacy. If noting else, she’s shown us that inspiration can easily be found where we might never expect it.

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