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Diane Arbus at SFMOMA

"Nothing is ever the same as they said it was. It's what I've never seen before that I recognize." So writes Diane Arbus - the painfully talented photographer whose work is currently on display at the SF MOMA's exhibition of her photographs - Revelations. Giving more than a passing glance to the disenfranchised or, more precisely, the freaks of this world, Arbus also pays homage to a dichotomy of subjects. From the glamorous to the disturbing, her pieces very often conjure both at the same time, for example, "The Vertical Journey" for Esquire, 1960. Arbus' "A young man in curlers at home on West 20th St." (1966) elicits a typical Arbus-admiring reaction- you want to laugh out loud, lean in closer, and look away all at the same time. The gender-bender dons a scowl befitting of a grouchy Long Island housewife of the 1960's, while he snarls with a cigarette.

Arbus' attention to the unusual is unflinching, even her recordings of what shouldn't seem extraordinary end up transcending the normal. Her lens focuses on a diversity of subjects, from a retro Christmas living room, to a Twilight Zone-esque portrait of identical twins. The inhabitants of the city of New York are often the recipients of her attention- with multiple photographs of passerby on the street, pausing to consider their admirer. A subject is immortalized at home in his element or engaged in a Central Park moment. Though it may not be the soft focus moment many a photographer has sought to capture (i.e. "Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park" (1962), its honesty makes it all the more appealing. Arbus crystallizes the greatest of New York stereotypes- from a family that could serve as the inspiration for the Sopranos- in "A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing" (1966) to hipsters forming the blueprint for the garage rock aesthetic.

Themes including a nudist colony, Coney Island oddities, and a series dedicated to subjects with Downs Syndrome are just a few of Arbus' photographic meditations. While revisiting the age-old artistic attention to "the gaze", the unorthodox photographer continually confronts the viewer with the theme of watching- whether it is from amazement like in "The Human Pincushion" (1962), star power as in "Norman Mailer at home"(1963) or the self-conscious acknowledgement of "42nd Street movie theater audience". Regardless of the matter, or the method, Arbus' gritty preoccupation with that which catches her eye forms a momentous body of work. Revelations highlights a talent that, much like its author's muses, must be seen to be believed.

October 25 - February 8
On display at <a href="/business.php?blId=350">SFMOMA</a>
151 Third St.
415.357.4000