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VISUAL TRANSFORMATION OF THE NORM: TOWARD THE DIANE ARBUS’ ‘FREAKS SHOW’

I. Sakhno, V. Berest
Friday 9 November 2018 by Libadmin2018

ABSTRACT

This paper describes the photographic heritage of Diane Arbus in the context of visual overcoming and transformation of the norm. Interest in what most people would call outcasts, misfits and freaks as an accepted theme of the underground culture finds a new semiotic interpretation in the artist’s work. Inspired by Tod Browning’s cult horror movie Freaks (1932), which featured an array of marginalized physical disabilities, Arbus creates her own freaks gallery (A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y., 1970, Mexican dwarf in his hotel room in N.Y.C., 1970, A naked man being a woman, N.Y.C., 1968 etc.), in which she tries to overcome the stereotypes and prejudices in perceiving Otherness. By refusing classic voyeuristic position of the observer, the artist shortens the distance between the Author and the Character, transforming the visual notions and icons of traumatic experience, decomposing the concept of the norm. Strong personal relationships between the artist and her models remove any tension and moral disgust. The full-face photos of the freaks and strong narrative author’s statement indicate models’ autonomous normalcy. Arbus’ particular outlook allows the viewer to rethink the very concept of flaw, which is fixed with the camera and the artist’s imperturbable common sense. She is not just gazing at the social outcasts, weird and wonderful characters, but trying to get acquainted with them, to respect the otherness of the other. Her camera removes taboos from the forbidden and shocking social and cultural themes. The photographer does not exploit low-lying human emotions. Through the visual representation of dismembered bodies in varying levels of intimacy, she finds true Beauty, rethinking modern ethical and aesthetic norms.

Keywords: Diane Arbus, freaks, norm, abnormality, otherness


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