Wrestling with Diane Arbus (Guardian)

Last week, we profiled the work of the acclaimed New York photographer Diane Arbus. As a major retrospective of her work opens in London, Germaine Greer, who agreed to pose for Arbus in 1971, reveals what it was like to be under the glare of her lens …

Saturday October 8, 2005
The Guardian

I first encountered Diane Arbus in April 1971 at a press conference organised by the American publishers of my book The Female Eunuch at Sardi’s restaurant in New York. She was one of a number of photographers who asked me for a private sitting, and I didn’t refuse. By May I had acquired a New York boyfriend, David, who urged me to let one of his friends photograph me. The friend was Diane Arbus.

I was photographed a lot in those days, and I hated the whole rigmarole so I tried to wriggle out of it. David, who was a photographer himself, had never wanted to photograph me. I wasn’t his kind of subject. He earned his living as a taxi-driver, but what he worked at was taking candid photographs of New York street life with the Nikon he kept beside him on the front seat of his yellow cab. Arbus also worked as a street photographer, like the ones of the 1940s who used to snap people as they walked past and then run up and offer them a card, so they could buy the snapshot if they wanted to, except Arbus didn’t offer her subjects a card and didn’t let them see the pictures. You have only to look at the contact sheets included by her daughter Doon Arbus in Diane Arbus: Revelations to see the street photographer at work with her Rolleiflex and flash. A lot of nonsense is talked about Arbus’s empathy with her subjects; what is mirrored on most of those faces is faint bewilderment and timid resentment. The subjects have no names because Arbus neither knew nor cared who they were. (more…)