Diane Arbus, one of the most daring and controversial photographers of the 20th century, is perhaps best known for her portraits of the freakish, the deranged, and the marginalized. A lifelong New Yorker, Arbus also had the great fortune of living next to two of the city's best public spaces—Central Park in the in the 1940s and '50s, then Washington Square Park in the 1960s—where she found many of her most memorable subjects.
An exhibition opened this week at the Levy Gorvy gallery, and highlights these iconic park photographs, like "Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park" (1962), along with some never-before-seen prints. Among the previously unpublished photos: a tender shot of Susan Sontag—who'd later became one of Arbus' fiercest critics—and her son sitting together on a park bench, taken in 1965. Following Arbus' suicide in 1971, Sontag would disparagingly refer to the late photographer's subjects as ''people who are pathetic, pitiable, as well as repulsive," and her style as, ''based on distance, on privilege, on a feeling that what the viewer is asked to look at is really other.''
Arbus, for her part, might not object much to this characterization; she was always pretty open about her desire to find the most sensational park-dwellers. After moving to Greenwich Village in 1959, the photographer wrote the following description of Washington Square Park:
"There were young hippie junkies down one row. There were lesbians down another, really tough amazingly hard-core lesbians. And in the middle were winos. They were like the first echelon and the girls who came from the Bronx to become hippies would have to sleep with the winos to get to sit on the other part with the junkie hippies. It was really remarkable. And I found it very scary… I was very keen to get close to them, so I had to ask to photograph them."
Diane Arbus: In the Park will run at Levy Gorvy Gallery at 909 Madison Avenue from May 2nd to June 24th.