Producing some of the most iconic photographs of the past century, Diane Arbus captured a side of America during the 1950s and ’60s that showed a country that often was very different than the one portrayed in popular media.
Contemporary Calgary is now showing, for the first time ever in Alberta, a fulsome showing of her work in Diane Arbus: Photographs, 1956-1971.
“Through her work she really revolutionizes not only the portrait genre in the in photography, but also kind of brings helps to bring the medium into the art realm in general,” said Sophie Hackett, curator of photography for the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO).
“Prior in the ’60s and ’70s, new photography is still sort of struggling for a place, as a medium of fine art, really for that recognition and Arbus is one of the figures who really helps to open that door.”
Her work ranged from celebrities of the time like James Brown and Mia Farrow to counter-cultural figures and everyone in between. That full breadth of work is on display at Contemporary Calgary until Sept. 17.
Hackett said that the work challenged conceptions of America at the time, including being a woman working in a time where that itself was counter-cultural.
“She revolutionizes portraiture in two ways. One is with the range of people she’s photographing, we’ve got for instance James Brown… But she’s also photographing people she encounters on the street, people whose lives don’t hit the headlines, and including people who were not normally considered to be part of humanity,” Hackett said.
“She photographs everyone equally with an equal directness and equal compassion.”
An important show for Contemporary Calgary, and for Calgarians
Her photograph, Identical Twins, Roselle, N.J.—arguably the most famous photo of Arbus’ work—is on display at the gallery along with other prominent and lesser-known masterpieces.
Senior Curator of Contemporary Calgary Ryan Doherty called the exhibition an important one for the gallery, and for Calgarians.
“This is a really important show for us. We’re still a relatively new institution and we are still cutting our teeth, so to speak,” he said.
“It’s a very big deal, and we’re so pleased to have people working with the AGO as well to bring this collection to us.”
He said that there have been singular showings of Arbus photos previously in the city, but never on the scale of what has been brought from Toronto to Calgary.
He said that the show would give Calgarians a different lens through which to look at a particularly formative time in culture.
“Something that you can see in her work is always searching for these lesser visible things. So even from certainly working with more marginalized communities, or, you know, people that aren’t typically photographed, bringing them to the surface,” Doherty said.
“That close assessment, close looking is really important in how we walk through the world. And I don’t think that’s limited to just Diane Arbus. This is like art in general.
“Art is another lens to look closely at the world that we live in, and maybe see it a little differently, and have wider horizons and make life more interesting. So I think it’s a great departure point to really think about all the art you’re going to see and how you live your life in general.”
For more details on Contemporary Calgary, see www.contemporarycalgary.com.