It’s hard not to be impressed by the spectacular scenography that welcomes visitors to the “Diane Arbus: Constellation” exhibition. At the LUMA Foundation, in Arles (Bouches-du-Rhône), a dizzying journey brings together in a single room, without any picture rail, hundreds of photographs hung at ground level, at the height of a man, even 2 meters high. , on metal racks through which you can see the whole room.
No less than 454 prints, made from 1945 to 1971, are thus presented in a “random and initiatory”in the words of the curator of the exhibition, Matthieu Humery: he did not respect any series, any chronology, in order to favor the ” offscreen “ and the “unconscious associations”. The dizzying effect is further enhanced by a mirror that covers the entire back wall, giving the illusion of a room twice the size.
There is enough to get lost in this maze of images, and you get lost. And why not ? At first glance, this immersive approach might make sense for an artist like Diane Arbus (1923-1971), whose images look like punches. This major American photographer has never ceased, all her life (she committed suicide in 1971), to blur the markers of identity, gender and normality, with her singularly powerful portraits.
If she is known for her fascination with people outside the norm (nudists, mentally disabled, transvestites, bodybuilders, freaks, winners of various competitions…), she has above all taken care to erase the border between “us” and “them”. , bringing out the strange in the familiar, highlighting the humanity and the fragility in the supposed freaks. Published in the magazine press, and in particular by Harper’s Bazaar, she was also part of the pioneering “New Documents” exhibition in 1967 at the MoMA in New York, with Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander, which established documentary photography as an artistic and highly subjective exercise.
The ordinary and the exceptional
At the center of the exhibition, her “Box of Ten”, a portfolio she had designed in 1971, brings together ten images of searing intensity, including some of her most famous. She precisely mixes the ordinary and the exceptional: the impassive twins, who inspired the characters of the film shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980), the giant who dominates his family like in a twisted fairy tale, a decent couple lying on deckchairs, indifferent to their children… All come to challenge the viewer with their gaze both innocent and bravado, in an existential face-to-face, accentuated by a square framing and a raw flash.
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