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Biology, Destiny, Photography: Difference According to Diane Arbus Author(s): Carol Armstrong Reviewed work(s): Source: October, Vol.

66 (Autumn, 1993), pp. 28-54 Published by: The MIT Press Stable URL: . Accessed: 14/11/2011 21:24
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Biology, Destiny, Photography: Difference According to Diane Arbus


Foreword In the beginning was the Flaw. The Flaw divided light from dark, male from from species,individual from female, species individual, peculiarity from peculiarity.The Flaw multipliedand begatmore flaws; differences multipliedand begat moredifferences. The Flaw mutatedendlesslyand proliferated throughoutthe World,until the Worldwas filled withflaws, an infinite, unhierarchical And from numberof irreducible differences. theFlaw was Photography born,whosedestiny it was to divide black from grayfrom white, to replicatedifference(s),and to reproducethe Flaw. So might Diane Arbus have rewritten the story of Genesis, had that been her project. But it wasn't, not exactly, and she didn't, not literally.

She did, however, make a photograph of a modern-day Adam and Eve. Taken in 1963, A husbandand wife in the woodsin a nudist camp,N.J. is to be found in the 1972 Aperture monograph about Arbus, published at the time of the Museum of Modern Art retrospective of her work in the year following her death. It is situated about a third of the way into the monograph, sandwiched between a 1970 photograph of two men at a drag ball in New York City and an anomalous 1966 photograph of a building lobby, again in New York City.

OCTOBER 66, Fall 1993, pp. 29-54. ? 1993 CarolArmstrong.

that Illustrationshave beenomitted from this articledue to problems the arose in negotiatingwith the Arbus estatefor permissionto reproduce are well discussed below. Since Arbus's many of photographs photographs known, the editors felt that theywere presentenoughin thepublic imagination for readers to make sense of the essay-which contains detailed will descriptionsof a numberof Arbus'sphotographs.Those descriptions or readers the eitherhave to serveas writtensubstitutes absent images, for on Arbusin orderto to theAperture monograph may need to have recourse to theappropriate thedescriptions refer photographs. Theeditors, alongwiththeauthorof thisessay,alsofelt thata statement that wereencountered neededto be madeaboutthe natureof the difficulties that the Arbus estate: in attemptingto acquirepermissions difficulties from on thepart of the in spiteof all efforts could not in the end be surmounted, authorand of theeditors of October. As a conditionof grantingpermission censorthe requested the estatewishedto exercise to reproduce photographs, the estate claimed that While the the article. the contents over of ship matters had to do with to make all wished the author that it extensive changes offact, in actualitymostof the changesdetailedin afivepage, single-spaced letterto the authorinvolvedthe imposition editorialjudgment. of the estate's The estate has everyright to chargewhatever fee it wishesfor the right to to Diane Arbus(in this casethefees were copyrighted photographs reproduce were the even exorbitant, publication), for a nonprofit though reproductions or to to and it also has every of any right agree refuse permitthereproduction or all of thosephotographs (even with the conditionof editorialchanges,the that wererequested). estatewas only willing to grant half of thephotographs editorial But the estatedoesnot have therightto impose judgmentor exercise and the editors the author a such to Unable condition, accept censorship. had no choicebut topublishthis essaywithoutillustrations. did indeedconcerneither Someof the changesrequested factual error made.Some have been those all citation-and or incorrect changes of form of



other changes that were requestedtrod a thin line betweenmatters offact and judgment: such was the case, the author believes, of the estate's repeated requestnot to referto the untitled series of photographsfrom the end of Arbus's career as representing people born with Down's Syndrome. In the end, the author has chosen to follow the estate's wishes in that regard, although she allowed herself the liberty of speculation about the appearance of Down's Syndrome. The majority of the changes requested, however, clearly did not concern fact, but interpretation, ranging from the small-hair-splitting changes in degree of politeness when writing about human difference(politeness not in keeping with Arbus's own verbal and visual expressions)-to the large-omission or alteration of entire sentences, passages, or footnotes. (Essentially this included everything of what little there was that could possibly be taken as a negative judgment about Arbus and her subjects.) Some of the small, polite changes were seriously considered by the author, and if they did not disrupt the manner or content of her discourse, she incorporatedthem. The larger, more censorial changes were all unacceptable. In either case, however, the principle of censorshipwas objectionable. Finally, the estate asked the author to pay for permission to quote extensive passages from the Aperture monographs and from Diane Arbus: Magazine Work. Though the estate, somewhat inconsistently, eventually agreed to grant permissionsfor the citations without editorial interference,the author and the editors of October felt it to be more consistent to do without thosepassages as well and thus to be as unbeholden to this particular estate, and as clear of its control and of the taint of its censorship, as possible. We wish to register disappointment in the behavior of this estate, which has only succeeded in hampering (though not stopping) free critical discourse on the very work through which it seeks gain. Above all, we protest the principle of censorship-there are no conditions under which it is acceptable.



Arbus also wrote some "Notes on the Nudist Camp," part of which were included in the opening text of the Aperture monograph, in which she described the NewJersey Garden of Eden. In addition to listing the nudists' accoutrements and soap-opera professions, reporting on the camp's taboos against sexual gazing, referencing its mundane culture of pornography-nudie pictures and girlie magazines-and evoking the vaguely unpatriarchal structure of the colony (no last names, only "Helen and Bill and Al and Betty and Hank and Gracie and Harold and Dot and Ted and Edna"), Arbus's description of the nudist camp also contains an emphasis on the absolutely individual nature of the physicality of every body: "when you come right down to it everyone is different."l Most notable, however, is the sheer accumulation of details that Arbus notes, which also amounts to an accumulation of "flaws"(this is Arbus's own term: "essentially what you notice ... is the flaw").2 And she ends her description with a parable about beginnings, about a kind of inverted Paradise, and about the way Genesis really might have happened, if it had been under the sway, not of God the Father the Logos, but of the "flaw":"It is as if way back in the Garden of Eden, after the Fall, Adam and Eve had begged the Lord to forgive them; and God, in his boundless exasperation, had said, 'All right, then. STAY.Stay in the Garden. Get civilized. Procreate. Muck it up.' And they did."3 Most of what is in the "Notes" is implicated, photographically, in all the photographic details of Arbus's photographic "Adam and Eve." Most obvious, of course, is the photograph's re-presentation, its photographic parody of the imagery of the Fall, of the Garden, of Original Sin, and of the biblical origins of gender difference. Posed in the middle of the photograph, in the midst of its "mucked-up" Paradise, next to the Tree, is the binary pair of Man and Woman, their bodies set side by side in order to display clearly the differences in genitalia, in body shape (straight and lean versus pear-shaped), body surface and color (muscled, hairy, and dark versus smooth and white), and body-history (the veins in his hands, the scars and stretch marks on her stomach), as well as in accoutrements and bodily adornments (his short, workaday nails, his cigarettes, her ring, her crucifix chain, her protective flip-flops, her long, gleaming nails)-all of which would seem to add up to that old binary order of gender difference. But more extended "scrutiny"(again, this is Arbus's word)4 of the innate yet deliberate descriptive excess of the photograph yields a quite different order of difference, more after the manner of the Flaw than of the Logos.5 The peculiarities
1. Diane Arbus, "Notes on the Nudist Camp" (1965), in Diane Arbus:Magazine Work(New York: Aperture, 1984), pp. 68-69; also excerpted and quoted in Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph, (Millerton, N.Y.:Aperture, 1972), pp. 4-5. Diane Arbus:MagazineWork, 2. p. 69. 3. Diane Arbus:An Aperture Monograph, p. 1. 4. Ibid., p. 2. 5. In calling upon the notion of the "logos," I mean to reference Jacques Derrida's critique of "logocentrism" (On Grammatology,trans. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak [Baltimore: Johns Hopkins



of the bodies of "Adam"and "Eve,"in other words, are not in the end reducible to a binary system of gender difference. His dark, curly, greased hair, his slightly protruding ears, his narrowly spaced eyes, his smile, his slightly sloping shoulders; her short sixties haircut, herprotruding ears, her small head, her faintly bug-eyed stare, the glimpse of her teeth, her large nipples and small breasts, the width of her hips, the shape of her knees, and so on: these are individual differencesindividual flaws-that include sexual differences in among them but that are not organized under the heading of gender difference per se-they are not essentially binary differences. And they are particularities, differences, flaws, that are yielded up by the accumulation of detail endemic to the photographic medium. Arbus's "Adam and Eve" are surrounded by other such details, including the blurred, squalid little huts visible in the background at either framing edge of the image, the rake marks in the sandy earth on which they stand, and the roots of the tree next to them, whose bifurcated trunk seems admirably placed for comparison with the upside-down bifurcation of the torsos of "Adam"and "Eve,"and whose Another set of descriptive excesses, juncture seems to echo the pubic "V"of "Eve." these are ones which seem further to muddy the waters of other, related binarisms, most notably that of "nature"and "culture"-and Arbus's verbal descriptions do the same. (As, by the way, does the image that follows in the monograph: a photograph of a photograph of the outdoors mapped illusionistically onto the wallpaper covering of an indoors lobby, its "natural" curves, its leaves, trees, water, and grasses interrupted by the straightedge of an interior corner and by the intruding detail of an electrical socket.) Finally, a word about the off-center situation of the tree in relation to the almost-centered figures of "Adam"and "Eve,"and this has to do with the photograph's "compositional"structure. In the Aperture monograph, Arbus is quoted as having derided what she called photographic "composition."6That is apt, for artful photographic framing, or at least framing that clearly signifies artiness, is notably absent from her images. Another form of "composition" is consistently exercised, however. Namely, the structure characteristic of both the "Adamand Eve" and of most of the other images in the monograph, all with very different subject matters,

University Press, 1976]), but I do so in a fairly limited way-only in the terms that I think are appropriate to the visuality of Arbus's photographs. Thus, I will not particularly mean to call on the discussion of "phonocentrism" that is so central to that discourse-i.e., the privileging of speech over writing as the origin of language and of meaning in the Western metaphysical tradition. (The implications of that aspect of the discourse are more specifically textual and literary than they are visual. While I'm sure it is possible to transfer the terms of the discourse into those of visuality, I'm not sure that it would work out usefully for this project.) I will, however, mean to call on the hierarchical, binary logicof that tradition's system (according to which not only speech and writing, origin and representation, but also mind/soul and body, man and animal, man and woman, culture and nature, etc., are hierarchically opposed). And, of course, I also mean to call up the biblical moment of the Western tradition and its paternalist myth of Creation as an originally perfect, preconceived plan originating in the disembodied Mind (and Voice) of God the Father. Diane Arbus:An Aperture 6. Monograph, p. 10.



such as, for example, the famous Childwith a toyhand grenadein Central Park,N.Y.C., which possesses a very similarly situated, similarly bifurcated tree in its middle ground: an overall effect of symmetry without bravura or compositional virtuosity, of bland centeredness and dead-pan frontality, enhanced by the stable square format of the Rolleiflex image, but pushed subtly out of alignment both by slightly, but only slightly, off-center poses, and by the insistent accumulation of photographic details. This conflation of the almost symmetrical and the fractionally asymmetrical, of the virtually centered and the marginally uncentered, and of the apparently posed figure and the seemingly unplaced detail (the falling suspender of the Child with a toy hand grenade,for instance), is frequently underlined by the positioning of figures in front of and next to items-such as the tree-that enhance the slightly out-of-kilter symmetries of the images in their entirety as well of the bodies contained within them. What this amounts to, then, is a mode of "composition" structured around the flaw-the defect in symmetry and centeredness, the difference within sameness, the detail that disrupts balance. So the bifurcated tree is not only an indexical figuration, like "Adam and Eve" themselves, of one-becoming-two, and of the two-sidedness of the body. Its off-centered situation also helps to suggest the grounding of "Adam and Eve" in nature's splittings, and in nature's subtle, continual disruptions of symmetry, of bipolarity, of evenness, of sameness. It helps to punctuate the way the differences of this "Adam and Eve" are the differences of the Flaw, the way the story of Genesis that their details revise is the story of Genetics (i.e., of Mutation), and the way those details are the details of biology and of photography, both.

The topic of this essay is the Aperture monograph, Arbus's photographs as they appear in it, and the ways in which the monograph and its photographs might or might not contain a thematics of gender.7 This is quite apart from asking whether or not the politics of this book of photographs are overtly feminist-they
7. This essay is part of a larger project having to do with a series of case-study readings of the work of certain women photographers and addressing the different forms in which photography and "femininity" might intersect-the different manners in which the facts and conditions of gender might or might not coincide with specifically photographic thematizations of gender. By "femininity" I simply mean the cultural value that has been attached to the fact of being female-the position of the Other to which woman has been assigned (a position, I should add, that only some female practitioners occupy in ways that are at all interesting). I do not mean to suggest that any essential "feminine" qualities adhere to work done by women as distinct from men-as Constance Sullivan and Eugenia Parry (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1990). (See Janis do, somewhat inconsistently, in WomenPhotographers Eric Homberger's critique of this book in "Transcending the Agendas: Gender and Photography," Wordand Image7 [October-December 1991]. Though Homberger throws the baby out with the bath water in deciding that gender is not an important concern in the work of women photographers of merit, such as that of Arbus's teacher Lisette Model, his distinction between the issue of exclusion by reason of gender and that of the gendering of photographic production is still useful, for all that it ought by now to be old hat.)



are not; while Arbus photographed important members of the feminist movement of the sixties and seventies, among them Germaine Greer and Ti Grace Atkinson, she was no believer. Even if the anecdotes contained in Patricia Bosworth's unscrupulously lurid biographical fiction are not to be trusted,8 there is evidence aplenty in the images themselves that Arbus had not signed on. Of course any thematization of gender is apt to contain a politics, but since I am interested in discovering that thematics as embedded in a practice in a particular medium, its politics are bound to be related to an overtly political movement, if at all, obliquely at best. I address the Aperture monograph because it gives me the best access to Arbus's (or at least the Arbus estate's) construction of her own practice. I do so against the advice of one writer on Arbus, who would, quite rightly, see this as a way of taking Arbus's photographs as a "closed system,"as if they were uninflected by the conditions of their production.9 Of course this book and these photographs do not belong entirely to a "closed system";of course their production was conditioned by gender (and other) constraints and gender (and other) ideologies of the day. But I am simply less interested in investigating and giving an explanatory account of those conditions than I am in readingthe photographs, reading the book of which they are a part, and reading in them Arbus's selfSo I leave aside the mythological area of Arbus's construction as a photographer. biography. I leave aside the material conditions of her practice and the ideological field in which she practiced. I leave aside such relevant contextual matters as her fashion-photographer background and the specifically American, specifically New York City culture of the carnivalesque to which she was attracted, as well as the social and historical reasons for that attraction. (I also do not mean to moralize about the questionable morality of her images, about the rightness or wrongness of photographing "freaks"-a question that interests me not at all, I must admit.)10 I take up instead the package of text and images that is the Arbus monograph, as

A Biography 8. Patricia Bosworth, Diane Arbus: (New York:Avon Books, 1984). See Catherine Lord, "WhatBecomes a Legend Most: The Short, Sad Career of Diane Arbus,"in 9. Richard Bolton, The Contestof Meaning: CriticalHistoriesof Photography (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1989), pp. 111-23. For two discussions of Arbus's work that do broach some of these questions (though most of 10. them remain untouched), see Susan Sontag, "America, Seen Through Photographs, Darkly," On (New York: Dell Publishing, 1977), pp. 27-48, and Shelley Rice, "EssentialDifferences: A Photography 18 (May 1980), pp. 66-71. In Comparison of the Portraits of Lisette Model and Diane Arbus,"Artforum particular, Sontag's views on Arbus's work require some mention here. I do not at all disagree with her summation of the politics and class position of Arbus's photography: as inflected by glamour industry strategies, by the distance, disinterestedness, and access of privilege, and by bourgeois conceptions of otherness-and, one could add, by a peculiar version of "familyvalues." (In this sense Arbus's images are obviously ideological kin to Richard Avedon's In the AmericanWest.)This essay, however, is predicated on a different working definition of the politics of images that has less to do with social ideology and more to do with image systems and medium definitions-with a kind of "formalist"politics, in other words. A body of images can entail both kinds of politics, and those politics can easily be (indeed, often haveto be) out of sync with one another. Such is the case, I believe, with Arbus's work.

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posthumously authorized by her daughter Doon and her close friend and adviser Marvin Israel. The monograph consists of the cover with its 1967 photograph of Identical twins, Roselle,N.J.; a frontispiece image of Arbus holding up her photograph of the Child with a toy hand grenadein a 1970 Rhode Island School of Design class; fifteen pages of text, made up of a series of transcribed Arbus aphorisms and photographic anecdotes; and then seventy-nine photographs, each with a brief and straightforward "documentary" title on the blank verso of the preceding page, each informing the reader as to physiognomic type, location (sometimes replete with address), and date. The photographs are organized according to the same principles as those of the MOMA "New Documents" show of 1967, in which Arbus showed thirty-some examples of her work (along with similar numbers of photographs by Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand).ll For that reason and others, I think it is fair to accept the estate's posthumous presentation of Arbus as representative of Arbus's presentation of herself. The photographs in the book are organized along the antilinear lines of dispersal and interspersal, in which any grouping according to documentary theme, according to topicality, locality, or date of production, is by and large refused. The images were taken between 1962 and 1971, mostly in New York City, some in New Jersey and other parts of New York, and a few in other states-California, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Louisiana. They include posed shots of topless dancers, burlesque queens and transvestites, families of various kinds, couples odd and otherwise, people with pets, nudists, carnival performers, musclemen, dwarfs and midgets and giants, "mental retardates,"twins and triplets, mothers and babies, children and teenagers and old people, close-ups of individuals costumed either in quotidian clothes or in carnivalesque masks and feathers and baubles, a very few uninhabited interiors and exteriors, one gallery opening-not in that (or any apparent) order. Interspersed with one another, forcing the reader to move backward and forward in place and time, the photographs are sequenced in such a way as to refuse overt thematic or monographic coherence-with the exception of the Untitled 1970-71 series of images of mental-hospital patients placed with chronological consistency at the end of the book.12 The effects of this "Chinese

11. John Szarkowski, New Documents(New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1967). The monograph contains over twice as many of Arbus's photographs as the "New Documents" show, and of course a lot of them were taken after 1967. But most of the pre-1967 photographs that were in the 1967 show are also in the 1972 book. 12. Lord, in "WhatBecomes a Legend Most," is right to compare the biographical construction of Arbus as good-girl-gone-wrong, whose suicide explains her work, to the popular valorization of Van Gogh as mad genius (needless to say, the Arbus myth contains a gender twist on that topos), and to reference Griselda Pollock's essay on the latter: "Artists,Mythology and Media: Genius, Madness and Art History," Screen 21:3 (1980). There is one way in which the Aperture monograph falls right in line with that construction of Arbus-the Untitledseries gets the same roman d clef pride of place as Van with Crows-as a proof-of-disturbance, premonition-of-suicide "lastwork." (It should Gogh's Wheatfield



Encyclopedia" principle of organization are severalfold: to make any attempt at classification hard going; to desystematize the world of "differences"explored in and "normals"and the photographs; to scatter and mix up the domains of "freaks" thus to dehierarchicalize and horizontalize, to level and equate them; to evoke both the irrational and the personal-celebrated by Szarkowskias prime principles of the "new document";13to delinearize the production of the "author";and yet, finally, to suggest that the subject of the book is "Diane Arbus"and Diane Arbus's project, rather than this or that or those documentary topics per se. The antilinear effect of disorder and dispersal produced by the "ordering"of the photographs is also conjured up by the aphoristic style of the opening transcription-a text that even more clearly states that "Diane Arbus," rather more than any of the documentary categories listed above, is the book's subject matter. and fantastic and I just Spoken in a kind of schoolgirl's vernacular, full of terrific adore them,this text signals a number of significant things. Most importantly, it registers the importance of the "flaw."It also proclaims the crucial role of the with his or her aura of "legend":central to Arbus'swork mythic figure of the "freak" because he or she was "born with [his/her] trauma."The monograph's text insists upon the otherness of Arbus's subjects. It stresses a kind of internal otherness as well-the alienation from one's conscious, social self, which is effected by the intervention the camera. It differentiates self-consciousness (which produces a "blank") and one's "identity"(which is the same as one's "nature,"and which resides in a "deep place"). Much of this is signaled in Arbus's slogan statement about the "gap between intention and effect," which clearly pertains both to the photographer and to those photographed, as well as to what happens between them.14 The monograph's text declares that the act of photographing is an act of "scrutiny"that yields up the "specific,"or the detail-in other words, the "flaw." That scrutiny is intimately tied to a fascination with the hyper-physical"differences" between things.15 But hand in hand with the emphasis upon photographic scrutiny, specificity, and differentiation (all aspects, one would think, of the masterful scopophilia of photography), there is the development of a sort of id theory of photography, in which many of the aspects of the medium that stand for technical mastery are treated to a kind of off-hand (yet nonetheless quite deliberate) irreverence. This irreverence for photography's sacred cows includes

be indicated that this series is the one part of the monograph that is not representative of Arbus's "intentions"-either in its numbered and untitled titling, or in its placement as a group at the end of the book.) "In the past decade this new generation of photog13. Szarkowski,press release for New Documents: raphers has redirected the technique and aesthetic of documentary photography to more personal ends. Their aim has been not to reform life but to know it, not to persuade but to understand. The world, in spite of its terrors, is approached as the ultimate source of wonder and fascination, no less and incoherent" (my emphases). precious for being irrational An Aperture Diane Arbus: 14. Monograph, pp. 1-3, 7-10. 15. Ibid., pp. 2, 9.

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"texture": "I wanted to see the real differences between things. I'm not talking about textures. I really hate that, the idea that a picture can be interesting simply because it shows texture. I mean that just kills me. I don't see what's interesting about texture. It really bores the hell out of me. But I wanted to see the difference between flesh and material, the densities of different kinds of things: air and water and shiny . . ."16It also includes "composition": "I hate the idea of composition. I don't know what good composition is. I mean I guess I must know something about it from doing it a lot and feeling my way into it and into what I like. Sometimes for me composition has to do ... with funny mistakes.... Composition is like that."17It includes a contemptuous remark about the fetishization of fine printing: "I do have a feeling for the print but I don't have a holy feeling for it."18 Even photography's weddedness to light and visibility is inverted: "LatelyI've been struck with how I really love what you can't see in a photograph. An actual physical darkness."19Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the camera itself, in one breath claimed as a device with quasi-magical powers, in the next is handled with an air of nonchalance and more than a touch of alienated irritation: "I think the camera is something of a nuisance in a way. It's recalcitrant. It's determined to do one thing and you may want to do something else. .... I get a great sense that they're different from me. I don't feel that total identity with the machine."20 Thus photography is transformed from a technical apparatus and its effects into a magical, a voodoo, a demonic mediumthat, unearthing something from a "deep place," amounts to a kind of possession-an event in which one is inhabited, interrupted, taken over by the Other. It is that treatment of photography that is identified with Arbus-for the text ends with this remark, stating fairly clearly that the monograph is about Arbus, Arbus's "identity"as a photographer, and Arbus's vision: "I do feel I have some slight corner on something about the quality of things. I mean it's very subtle and a little embarrassing to me, but I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them."21 III shall let the cover photograph for the monograph, Identical twins, Rose I shall let the cover photograph for the monograph, Identical twins, Roselle, N.J., stand as an image of Arbus's alternative conception of the medium, for placed together with the inscription of her name on the cover it surely signifies "Diane Arbus" as much as anything else. Within the book, where the photograph appears again, it signifies both"Diane Arbus" and "Identical twins, Roselle, NJ."just as the Child with a toy hand grenade, appearing both in the frontispiece
16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. Ibid., p. 9. Ibid., p. 10. Ibid., p. 15. Ibid., p. 9. Ibid., p. 11. Ibid., p. 15.



photograph of Diane Arbus and within the book, signifies both the photographer and the child. A comment made by Norman Mailer underlines that nicely: "Giving a camera to Diane Arbus is like putting a live grenade in the hands of a child."22 Moreover, that the Identical twins should be taken as signifying "Arbus"even within the book is strongly suggested by its placement just before an anomalous 1968 photograph of three men and one woman at a New YorkCity gallery opening, itself quite directly signifying Arbus's presence within the art world. Given Arbus's emphasis on subject matter as the real interest of photography, it is by no means and then, contradictory to claim, in one breath, that these images signify "Arbus" or "child with toy hand grenade." Quite in the next, to say that they signify "twins" the contrary, the images' double signification is the point: it is in their representation-their "scrutiny"-of the world that these photographs also represent Arbus's notion of photography; it is in their representation of the other-than-Arbus that they represent "Arbus." Identicaltwins,Roselle, N.J.displays two "identical"products of biological reproduction-of genetic repetition. At first glance, it is the sameness of the two girls that counts-a sameness that first is biological and then is culturally supplemented by the wearing of identical dresses. The frontal, nearly centered presentation of the two girls within the square of the image enhances the immediate reading of their sameness-by means of nearly symmetricalplacing and almost-identicalposing: one is led to notice not only their "identical"facial features, but their "identical" dresses, white headbands with bobby pins, their "identical"white stockings, their "identical" their "identical"haircuts, their "identical"postures. But almost as immediately, indeed, almost in tandem with this perception of on by the perception of sameness, comes the awareness of slight differences, brought sameness and all the almoststhat go with it, and then expanded and proliferated within careful scrutiny of the image's details. The facial features of the two girls are not exactly the same, after all-the slight differences between them are enhanced by the slight differences in facial expressions, most notably, the quirking of the lips of the right-hand twin into a small smile. Neither, upon closer looking, are the twins' headbands and hairdos exactly the same: their bobby pins are positioned just a little differently; their bangs lie somewhat differently on their foreheads; their sixties flips fall with slightly different degrees of raggedness at the bottom; and the flyawaywisps escaping from the more or less identical parts in their hair do so again with small differences that are enhanced by the subtle differences in alignment with the photograph's upper edge-note the one bit of hair on the head of the left-hand twin that almosttouches the frame. While their white-collared, white-cuffed corduroy smocks are the "same,"at the same time they do not fall in exactly the same way: the gathering is not, cannot be exactly the same on their two

Harold Hayes, "Editor's Notes," Esquire,November 1971, p. 8, cited in Diane Arbus:Magazine 22. Work, p. 161.

Destiny,Photography Biology,


dresses; neither their collars nor their cuffs lie in exactly the same way; the smocks do not fall from their shoulders in precisely the same manner; the wrinkles in their sleeves are not strictly alike; the fall of their hems is not perfectly symmetrical. Their tights are not after all the same-one pair is patterned with diamonds and the other with a somewhat different lattice-work-and again the wrinkles at their knees are just a little dissimilar. And then, neither their arms and hands nor their legs are positioned with exact symmetry:their legs are bowed with slightly different degrees of contrapposto; the outermost hands of either girl are curled in somewhat different ways; and their innermost hands-the hands squeezed between the juncture of their bodies-lie on and grip their dresses a little differently, resulting in the slight differences in the fall of their hems which I have already mentioned. There are intrabody differences too-the most striking of which, upon scrutiny, is the slight asymmetry of the features of the right-hand twin, made especially noticeable, in contrast to the left-hand twin, by her aforementioned smile. These small differences are, once again, enhanced by the slight misalignments and asymmetries of the photograph as a whole: the way the right-hand twin is slightly closer to the right edge than the left-hand twin is to the left edge; the previously mentioned differences in alignment with the top edge; the slight diagonal pitch of the meeting between brick ground and white plaster wall that most of all throws the photograph's appearance of symmetry slightly out of kilter. Finally, there is the detail of the crack in the white wall at the upper left cornerliterally a flaw in the perfect, white, everywhere-the-same surface that joins photographic detail to material fissure to the disruption of sameness and balance. It is a flaw that has something to do with the "gap between intention and effect"-that is, it is one of those many uncontrolled, unauthored details effected by the world itself that are, however, more or less intentionally framed by Arbus. In other words, the crack in the wall is a demonstration of the way in which the intentionality of photographic framing and the essential unintentionality of the photographic detail work together. As a disturbance in the surface, the crack in the wall also represents the "gap"between the "intentionality"of sameness and the "effect"of difference. As such, it is a flaw that helps to point up the simultaneity of two productions of difference within sameness: namely, that of the physical world and that of the photograph, more specifically, here, that of the biological or the genetic and that of the photographic detail or punctum,to use Barthes's term23-

23. Roland Barthes, La chambre claire:Note sur la photographie (Paris: Cahiers du Cinema Gallimard Seuil, 1980). Again, mine is in some ways a limited, or perhaps it is better to say a mutant, use of Barthes's term. For more often than not Barthes privileges a kind of photographic production in which the intentionality of the artist is not signaled-and the punctumoccupies a crucial position, not only in his theorization of photography in general, but also in his preference for this kind of photography in particular. It stands not only for the inherently interdeminate, incommunicable nature of photographic meaning, and hence the necessarily, more-than-usually subjective nature of the reception of photography, but also, more particularly, for the detail in a photograph whose melancholy effect is particular rather than general, which literally punctures the historical and aesthetic field of which it is a



the latter the result of the differentiation of pure white into patterns of black, gray, and off-white. The photograph quite literally shows how sameness mutates into difference by means of the flaw at both the levels of biology and of photography, all in the context of a subject matter thematizing the aberration of identicalness. In this way the photograph puts biological and photographic reproductive processes together-and instead of photography-as-apparatus,it represents photography-asor at least Arbus's view of reproduction-as-mutation, and thus it signifies "Arbus," the medium. Two other photographs scattered elsewhere in the book also thematize the aberrations within the aberration of identicalness. Several pages later appears an earlier photograph of identical triplets, also in NewJersey (1963). There the bipolar symmetry of the twins is expanded into the tripartite formation of symmetry that is the triplets. Many of the same compositional features of the Identical
twins are in operation in the Triplets in their bedroom,N.J. as well, producing a simi-

lar array of slight asymmetries and of differences within sameness-as in the slightly off-kilter framing of the three beds, revealing a glimpse of pillow and headboard patterning at the right that we are not allowed at the left; the ruffled curtains of the window to the right where there is none to the left; the barely noticeable detail of the three medals suspended from the upper edge of the photograph, just off-center, above and between the central and the leftmost triplet: all of these subtle asymmetries and small differences set off by the scattered patterning black-and-gray-and-white of the wallpaper dramatize the black-and-gray-and-whiteness of the photograph's surface. Framed by all of that, of course, are the identical triplets themselves, their biological identicalness again culturally supplemented by the identicalness of clothing and of posing. And again one is led to read across them, to scrutinize them in order to discover a multitude of tiny differences in their features, in the fall of their clothing, and in the posture of their bodies. These need not be enumerated again; suffice it to say that the photograph makes the boundaries between three kinds of sameness and difference rather indeterminate: between, first, the unintentional, bodily, biological production of sameness and difference; second, the cultural supplementation of sameness and difference, un-thought-out and "second nature," as it were; and third, the intentional, photographic posing and framing of sameness
part, which transcends that domain of meaning, and strikes a personal chord that will be different for each and every viewer (as will the punctumitself). Thus it embodies the deeply unsystematic nature of photographic semiotics. I doubt whether Barthes would have been particularlyinterested in any photographic production as authorially marked (and in some senses as systematic in its deployment of the punctum)as Arbus's. Nonetheless, I do think it is possible to claim, both with and against the grain, that Arbus's is a production all about the punctum-in that it is all about the unintentional, unassimilated whose object is the particular, the peculiar, and the traumatic, detail, and all about a kind of "scrutiny" indeed, all about a kind of studium(the general aesthetic and information field that is the other crucial term in Barthes's semiotics of the photograph), which is everywhere "flawed"by the punctum.In other words, perhaps more than any others, Arbus's is a production that announcesthe systemic importance of the antisystematicpunctumto the medium.



and difference. Where one kind of near-sameness and little difference ends and the other begins is difficult indeed to determine. That indeterminacy is one of the crucial intentional/unintentional effects of this, as well as of most of the other photographs in the Aperture monograph. Later on in the monograph, just after the Childwith a toyhand grenade,there is a 1967 photograph of Two girls in matchingbathingsuits, ConeyIsland. In tandem with instances of biological identicalness like the Identicaltwinsand the Triplets, the Twogirls in matchingbathingsuits further blurs the boundary between "nature"and "culture,"for identicalness in this case is entirely the effect of that "second nature" which is "culture":of dressing-as-twinsand of industrial repetition (needless to say, the bathing suits are off-the-rack multiples, products of mass production). So the perception of difference and sameness must of necessity operate somewhat differently in the Two girls in matching bathing suits. Though one begins again with sameness-the bold, asymmetrical black-and-white patterning of the bathing suits makes sameness an immediate matter of eye-catching photo-graphics-since that sameness of costume is this time not matched by sameness of features or of hairdos, the question is less one of difference within sameness than of sameness within difference, or rather of sameness and difference standing alongside each other. This strategy suggests the way, on the one hand, two people who are not genetic doubles are both similar to and different from each other and the way their like costuming can underline that, and it suggests, on the other hand and at the same time, the way the two sides of each individual body are and are not the same, and the way a person's costume, by its asymmetry, can underline that. So the sameness of the girls' costuming unearths boththeir samenesses and differences of face and body. At the same time, the asymmetry of their matching bathing suits unearths the asymmetries within the symmetries of their two bodies, suggesting that what is really similar about the two girls is that their symmetries are flawed. That is, the only thing that is really the "same"about them is that their bodily samenesses contain differences-that similarityis alwaysinflected by differentiation. And of course, this scrutiny of sameness and difference operates in specifically photographic termsthe matching, asymmetrical graphics of the bathing suits is at the same time the graphics of photography. III Scrutinization of the Arbus monograph yields a fairly insistent thematization not only of the physical oddities of "nature"but also of the workings of biology. Scattered throughout the book one can discern a series of thematic categories having to do with biological reproduction. In the discussion that follows I mean to do my own readerly work of separating and sorting out those categories, organizing them into series, and uncovering the thematic thread that links them. Each of these discovered categories, dispersed and interspersed with one another, has to do with reproductive units, unions, pairings, and groupings-united, paired, and



placed in groups through my own movement back and forth across the imagistic "text." Among these reproductive categories, of course, is that of the genetic double-the Identical twins and the Triplets.Then (not necessarily in this order) there is that of the baby, in two out of three cases placed in context with the mother. These diaper derby pictures are Arbus's variants on the topos of the madonna and child-in each centered/uncentered, placed/displaced instance, it is the oddity of the baby's hyperphysicality that is detailed and underlined by close-up attention: the materiality of flesh, of damp and dry hair, of newly cut teeth, the wet sheen of eyes, the shine of sweat, the texture of skin-pores,the viscous drip and drool of saliva, sometimes a dry crust of mucus, against the different weaves of cotton, wool, or acrylic. Even the babies' different grimaces are seen as physical productions-as specific contortions of specifically configured flesh. These are among the best illustrations of Arbus's distinction between the aestheticized textural specificity of art photography and what she calls "the real differences between things ... the difference between flesh and material, the densities of different kinds of things . . ." They are also representations of the products of reproduction-biological reproduction and photographic reproduction-and of the physical specificity produced by both kinds of reproduction, the biological and the photographic, working together. Another discernible category is that of the couple. This is one of the most persistent categories in the monograph, and it includes: young couples, old couples, couples of different classes and different races, married couples, unmarried dressed or couples, friend-couples, transvestite couples, also couples "abnormally" undressed, as in a crowned and berobed king and queen of a senior citizens dance,24 and a comfortably at home nudist couple conforming to one of Arbus's "Notes on the Nudist Camp" descriptions. In each case the photographs' details single out peculiar aspects of mate-coupling and gender-pairing-the wearing of rings, the possessive twining of bodies, different forms of clothes-fastening,including buttons that close left to right versus buttons that close right to left. One mixedrace couple(A young man and his pregnant wife in WashingtonSquarePark, N.Y.C., 1965), anchored by that ubiquitous park tree slightly off-center behind them, is an explicitly reproductive pair-or so the title tells us, when it informs us that the female half of the pair is pregnant. And of course, the reproductive mixture of the black-and-white pair is formally insinuated by the photograph's black-and-white rendering not only of the coupling of white arm and torso, black arm and hand and gray-detailed smock, but also of such particulars as the meeting of white skin and black hair, of black skin and off-white shirt.

article entitled "The Last This pair was photographed on magazine assignment for a 1971 Esquire 24. of Life ... " that was captioned thus: "An introduction to a brand-new species, suddenly mutated,that must be reckoned with, kept separate, and observed" (Diane Arbus:Magazine Work, p. 146). In Arbus's couples, which magazine work, couples were also a frequent assignment-in addition to her "ordinary" she preferred, she photographed a wide variety of fashionable celebrity couples.



Yet another category that can be discovered in the monograph is the related one of the family, replete with the couple's offspring.25 Again, different kinds of families are represented: here an upper-class suburban family in Westchester, there a lower-class urban family in Brooklyn (A young Brooklyn family going for a Both in their Sunday modes, these famiSunday outing, N.Y.C., 1966).26 depicted lies are socially contrasted by means of their different contexts, attire, and occupations-but of course, since in the monograph they are dispersed and interspersed with other photographs, that contrast has to be sought out. Also to be sought out is their fundamental similarity: on the one hand, the alienated, Pinteresque, upper-middle-class, pop-music-publisher family in their backyard on the weekend; on the other, the married-at-sixteen, Italian-immigrant, garagemechanic family, piling into their car to visit their parents-both couples are joined and divided by the offspring placed between them. In addition to these "normal"families, there is also a nudist family, and the Bronx family of the 'Jewish giant" Eddie Carmel (A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N. Y., 1970). Considered together with the pictures of dwarfs and midgets, of hermaphrodites, albinos, and "retardates,"the latter photograph bridges two categories, that of the family and that of the genetic "freak" or mutant (which brings us around to where we started, for the Identical twins and Tripletsreally belong in that category as well). In both of these cases, the "flaws" and "freakishness" that Arbus celebrated-nature's "traumas," as she called them-are joined to an imagery of familial union and descent. The child who joins and divides the Brooklyn family by the difference of his blondness is also a "retarded" child-as witnessed in the punctum of his unmanaged features and facial expression. It is that punctumwhich joins and divides, punctuates and punctures the family unit and which is placed at the off-center of the photograph's slight disequilibrium-that punctumnot only disorders the family unit by piercing it; it also points out the disorder interior to, deep within the family unit. The "flaw" at the off-center of the photograph suggests the way reproduction is a disordering, is a puncturing by difference, is, in short, mutation. And that "flaw"is also fairly pointed in its demonstration of its own simultaneous (off-)centrality to both kinds of reproduction, the biological and the photographic. A Jewish giant points up the role of mutation in reproduction even more overtly-by bodily enactment: by the giant's difference in size, which much more

25. That the reproductive unit of the family was crucial to Arbus is heard in her 1968 remarks about a possible book project: 'The working title, if you can call it that, for my book which I keep postponing is FamilyAlbum.I mean I am not working on it except to photograph like I would anyway,so all I have is a title and a publisher and a sort of sweet lust for things I want in it. Like picking flowers. Or Noah'sark I can hardly bear to leave any animal out" (cited in Diane Arbus:MagazineWork, p. 171; my emphasis). 26. These two photographs were reproduced together in a magazine article as well, a 1968 London Sunday TimesMagazine piece entitled 'Two American Families," in which their residences are identified as Westchester, Conn., and the Bronx, respectively-so much for documentary and journalistic accuracy (Diane Arbus:MagazineWork, p. 106).



wildly than anywhere else throws off the room's, the couple's, and the photograph's brave and banal attempts at order and symmetry; and by the different calibrations of bemusement discoverable in the expressions on the faces of Eddie Carmel's parents, as well as in their gestures-the father's compact and withheld and slightly, paternallyjudgmental-hands-in-pockets, as much as to say, what does this have to do with me?-the mother's more bodily, more implicated in the reproductive proceedings-hands on hips, as if to exclaim, this bodyborethat?Bracketing for a moment the specific "freakishness" of giantism, this photograph, with its nuancing of the slight corporeal differences between the feeling of estrangement and the sensation of strangeness, offers a wonderfully anecdotal demonstration of the essential weirdness of reproductive relationships. (It also parallels a statement Arbus made about the Westchester couple and their child: "Ithink all families are creepy in a way.")27 It is on this note and in this category that the monograph ends-that is, with a thematization of the genetic "freak"or mutant. Indeed, ending as it does with an untitled series of seven photographs of "mental retardates" (many of whom appear to have the physical characteristics of people born with Down's Syndrome), all taken at the same time and place at the end of Arbus's life and career, and thus subject to a chronological and thematic consistency not found elsewhere in the book, it is fair to say not only that the monograph finishes with the most disturbing and difficult-to-look-at moment in Arbus's production, but also with an insistence upon the theme of genetic mutation that is much more overt than elsewhere, and which makes a particular, uneasy kind of sense out of the monograph's diverse forms of "freakishness."28 Alternation between masked and unmasked faces is a prominent feature of the Untitledseries-three of the seven images depict figures in Halloween regalia, and those are interspersed with four images of "normally"clothed figures with uncovered features. This alternation helps to underline one of two uncanninesses mobilized by these photographs, which is that of the human face. The difficulty of this series is the difficulty of facing such faces and allowing oneself to scrutinize them-one feels, almost as much in these photographs as in life, the taboo against

Cited in Diane Arbus:MagazineWork, 27. p. 168. 28. Just two pages before the beginning of this ending series is to be found one of Arbus's 1970 others, including a hermaphrodite, a tattooed man, and a Maryland carnival photographs-the dressed-up but genetically "normal"female performer, are dispersed earlier in the monograph. The one before the final series is of an albino sword swallower, and thus it thematically combines the culturally marginal with the genetically aberrational, the carnivalesque with the mutant. Like the other carnival photographs, it also dramatizes the structural peculiarities of Arbus's work and prefaces the "mental retardates"series with a vivid demonstration of the slight disequilibrium so consistently sought by Arbus, tying that disequilibrium to the subject matter of genetic mutation. But then, as if to insure the continued effect of interspersal even in the face of and in front of an unprecedented concentration of images with the same subject matter, there is also, between the albino performer and the closing series, another one of Arbus's anomalous photographs, a 1963 shot of a propped-up, backless house facade on a Hollywood hill.



staring and the discomfort felt when one does stare at someone one feels, or wishes to feel, as so irrevocably other. That which unnerves, here, is the particular uncanniness of the unmanaged face (and body), so un-self-conscious that lack of expression (and gesture) and excess of expression (and gesture) seem to come together in the eerie, uncontrolled place of "physical darkness" in which the animate and the inanimate are combined and indistinguishable. It is worth noticing, in this regard, that the effect of alternating inanimately masked and covered faces with unmasked, uncovered, animately unmanaged faces is to expose the likeness rather than the oppositeness of the two kinds of visage. The other related uncanniness of this series is that of human reproduction. That is to say, as products of genetic mutation-like all of us, only more so-the "mental retardates" confront us with the deep facts of the unmanageability and otherness of the body, of its reproductive process and products: with the fact that we cannot know or predict, cannot control, and cannot own what or how our bodies will reproduce; and with the suspicion that these people might, in their very otherness, be like us, or related to us. This reproductive uncanny also puts us in the place where animate force and inanimate flesh meet one another, in the place inhabited by the "other," by the body's demonic "id."29 It is, as well, the and fellow traveler of the desire to master the underbelly body by subjecting it to a hierarchical, binary logic, by refusing the otherness within it, and assigning that otherness elsewhere, to the body of the "other": two of the overarching demonstrations of the monograph as a whole and of this series of photographs in particular are that the face and the body in all their intractable specificity simply will fit not this logic and its hierarchical binarisms, and that otherness, since it is both everywhere and internal to oneself, will not stay securely "othered." In addition to their alternation between masked and unmasked, between costumed and "normally" clothed, and also between excessively gesturing and mutely frozen figures, these final photographs are subject to another oscillation: between numbers and groupings of figures. Untitled, the photographs themselves are numbered one through seven, and they move, in typical antilinear, interspersed fashion, from single figures to pairs of figures (there are two of each of these) to groups of three and four and more (there is one of each of these). The sequence goes this way: two; two; one; four; one; three; and then one last image of at least eight figures, containing three in the foreground, at least five in the background, and fragments of at least two more.
29. My reference to the "uncanny" is largely colloquial-I don't particularly mean it to signal any address to Freudian discourse. There are, however, many obvious ways in which that discourse would be appropriate to a discussion of Arbus's work, were that the object of this essay: the importance of the double, the confrontation between the animate and the inanimate, a concept of identity as based in a kind of uncontrollable otherness lodged within the self are all aspects of Arbus's production and selfconstruction that resonate both with Surrealist themes and with the Freudian "uncanny."See Sigmund Worksof SigmundFreud,vol. 17, trans. James Strachey Freud, "The Uncanny," The Complete Psychological (London: Hogarth Press, 1953-73), pp. 234-35, particularly as cited in Rosalind Krauss, L'Amour Fou: and Surrealism (New York:Abbeville Press, 1985), pp. 82-85. Photography



In each case, the different number of figures produces a different relationship to the square frame, and a different suggestion of carnivalesque disequilibrium: from the plain almost-centeredness of a single, masked, white-sheeted figure, to (just before it) the slightly different alignment of two unmasked figures with the two respective edges of the photograph that they inhabit-theirs is a difference in alignment that opens up a fissure at the center of the image and that is matched by the differences in the two figures' features and gazes, gestures, and bodily postures, and in the disarranged clothing of the one and the undisciplined flesh of the other. From the pair of figures to the single figure (in the photographs numbered two and three), the series moves to a group of four (numbered four), and then to a group of three (numbered six-there is one single-figure image between numbers four and six). In the second half of the series as well there is a contrast between masked, unmoving figures and unmasked, contorted ones. That contrast is matched to a movement between different numbers of figures; and that alternation in number is fitted to the opening of varied fissures within the figural groupings and hence within the square field of the photographs, and to fluctuations in the slightly destabilized relationships between figures and frame. It is as if this series of photographs, in its nonlinear way, acts out an almost mathematical process of division, multiplication, and combination, of fission and replication, that, in its conflation of numerical, corporeal, and compositional variation, directly combines two reproductive processes-the genetic and the photographic, the of that the body and that of the image. To and the biological representational, divide and and and to mutate, that is the destiny, at one multiply reproduce, split and the same time, of bodies and of photographs, or so this series suggests. That this ending series was left untitled by its editors is significant. With its quintessentially Arbus subject matter and compositional format, and its chronologically consistent, concentrated placement at the end of the monograph, it is a series about Arbus as much as about "mental retardates." If it were otherwise, the series might have been entitled something like Middle-Aged Retardates,Vineland, have its and it would concentration, 1970-71, thus, given unprecedented N.J., described its function and mode as documentary-more documentary, indeed, than the rest of the monograph. But without such a title, both its concentration and its consistency with the chronology of Arbus's life serve to reference Arbus. Indeed, the frontispiece and text with which the monograph commences and the untitled series with which it closes might be thought of as a pair of matching bookends, bracketing the photographs between them with two different representations of Arbus the photographer. Thus the closing series photographically matches much of what the opening text proclaims: the importance of the flaw, of peculiarities, signs, and guises; the centrality of the mythic figure of the freak; the the "gap between intenand the traumatic; intervention of the other, the different, tion and effect"; the act of photographing considered as an act of scrutiny; finally, what I am calling Arbus's id theory of photography-and so on. The closing series,



however, coming after the peculiar natural history proffered by the monograph's photographic menagerie, places that theory of photography more squarely in the domain of an uncanny sort of biology. It defines photography as a medium that reproduces nature's reproductions and that, by its own replications, variations, and deviations, acts to show the mutation inherent in the world and its process of reproduction. Indeed, it is not too much to say that it identifies the replicatory process of photography with biological reproduction and genetic mutation.

Arbus's identification of photography with biology is in some ways a regressive definition of the medium, a kind of twentieth-century "pencil of nature" attitude toward photography, which leans heavily on the medium's indexicality, its status as a "trace"of the real, and which eschews both the phototechnics of the fine-art print and the chaotic, self-dramatizing framing of the snapshot mode in favor of the durational look, the privileging of the pose and of physiognomic detail, and the centered compositions characteristic of nineteenth-century photography. (Arbus's is, of course, a deliberately "flawed"version of that mode of photography. Nonetheless, her reliance on such a photographic style is what makes her work so significantly different from that of her contemporaries.) At the same time, hers is a quite radical notion of the medium, more subversive to the ideology of the apparatus, the doctrine of the logos, and, by the way, to the binary system of gender difference, than most other uses of the medium that I have seen. Certainly it was more subversive, at least in those regards, than the uses to which Arbus's apparatus-obsessed New Document colleagues put photography. Arbus's representation of photography is quite different from that of Friedlander and Winogrand, both of whom place tremendous emphasis upon the apparatus, and whose irreverence about it-"The mind-finger presses the release on the silly machine"30-can only be displayed as part and parcel of their emphasis upon it. Both of the other two New Documentarians, in their different ways, stress the role of the camera in the capture of the world-as a prosthetic, if not phallic, extension of the body. Over and over again they identify themselves with their monocular viewing machines, and they consistently produce a kind of street-shoot framing that helps to characterize their photographs as the immediate products of
30. Lee Friedlander, Self-Portrait (New City, N.Y.: Haywire Press, 1970). This book, published with the help of Marvin Israel and others a couple of years before the Arbus monograph, is a good example of the emphasis upon the apparatus: even more overtly a book about the photographer than the Arbus monograph is, it obsessively represents the photographer in terms of his apparatus, as physicallyjoined to it and altered by it. Winogrand's work of the sixties also includes repeated images of people with cameras held up to their faces. So identification with the apparatus-specifically with the Leica symbiotically joined to the face and body of the viewer-is a prominent feature of both of their work, though Friedlander's focus on the apparatus is much more wry and self-critical than that of Winogrand, in particular much more problematizing about the phallicism and the disembodying effects of the camera as bodily prosthesis.



their moving, viewing, machinic/phallic bodies. And of course, the 35 mm Leica, which they favored, is a camera much better suited to this notion of photography and this kind of framing than the square-image, 120 mm Rolleiflex with which Arbus chose to work. Held up to the face, the Leica becomes an extension of the eye, through which one looks transparently at the world and has the illusion of organizing it and capturing chosen rectangular parts of it as one moves through it-just by virtue of where one stands, how one orients it, when one clicks it-so that there seems to be a direct relationship between the visual/bodily decisions one makes and the images one produces.31 Arbus, by contrast, emphasizes her discontinuity with the camera-it is no bodily extension; she chooses a camera whose operation typically involves a much less one-to-one relationship between bodily movements, decision-making, and image production, and between the eye and the (reversed) image on the ground glass (which is a surface that one looks at rather than a transparent opening that one looks through);and the characteristic framing of her photographs tends to point up the relationship between her subjects and the edges of the images that theyinhabit much more than between hereye/body and the world. Thus the camera, like the people in front of it, is Arbus's Other, and her photographs are her and others) rather than (that occur between produced by subtle intersections the world), and by meetings in the seize-the-chance interventions (of camera/body between the internal reproductive workings of the camera, on the one hand, and the equally internal process of what Arbus calls her "identity"on the other (not to unconscious "deep mention the "identities" of those she photographs)-that from is that her and others within self-mastery or conscious quite apart place" And this below-consciousness, on-the-margins-of-physicalityzone self-knowledge. in which Arbus locates her "identity"is also the zone in which biology and photography intersect. This is, further, the zone in which one might locate the "femininity" of Arbus's practice-not in some essential, precultural notion of

This model of photographic intentionality is the same as the so-called "decisive moment," still 31. so privileged in the teaching of street-shoot photography. See Henri Cartier-Bresson, The Decisive on Moment (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1952), as excerpted in Nathan Lyons, Photographers (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966), pp. 42-44: "I had just discovered the Leica. It Photography became the extension of my eye, and I have never been separated from it since I found it. I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung-up and ready to pounce, determined to 'trap' life-to preserve life in the act of living. Above all, I craved to seize the whole essence, in the confines of one single photograph, of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.... Sometimes you light upon the picture in seconds; it might also require hours or days.... You must be on the alert with the brain, the eye, the heart; and have a suppleness of body. ... There is the selection we make when we look through the view-finder at the subject.... In the case of each of us it is from our own eye that space begins and slants off, enlarging itself progressively toward infinity." As much predicated on unconscious processes as Arbus's work, the "decisive moment" is, however, different from her brand of photography in its overt insistence on a direct linkage between camera, eye, brain, and body, on a phallic model of the photographer's relation to the world-which is described in the aggressive language of hunting, lying in wait, and seizing-and on spatiality conceived as an extension of the photographer's eye/body.



gender, but in her more or less equilateral occupation of the off-center position assigned by culture to the Other: in her intuitive reliance on a model of the medium, of corporeality, identity, and creativity, and of the relation between "nature"and "culture,"which is quite other than the model provided by dominant conceptions and uses of the apparatus. Postscript One could summarize certain aspects of Arbus's monograph with this statement: biology is destiny, after all. One would mean something quite different by that than what "biology is destiny" usually means, and yet one would nevertheless be controverting feminist doctrine all the way from Beauvoir to the present.32That is to say, the definitions of both "biology"and of "destiny"are fundamentally altered by the monograph's exploration of the essential "freakishness"of human naturedeviant, and therefore the logic of its "destiny" "biology,"it suggests, is fundamentally is that of deviation-deviation according to the "flaw," rather than conformity to the law (of the father). But nonetheless it controverts the feminist argument against the notion that "biology is destiny" by locating the "truth"of the human being in the physical, biological body, by founding "culture"in "nature,"and by asserting the genetic ground of gender rather than its status as a cultural construct. Which brings me to this question: What does all of this have to do with the thematization of gender? That is the question which will preside over the closing section of this essay. In among the variety of images of "freaks"and "normals" found in the Arbus monograph is also a dispersed set of images that do thematize gender more directly: it is those that I want to look at now. Among them are images that display exaggerated, pumped-up, spectacularized versions of masculinity and femininity-from a New York muscleman contestant to a Topless dancer in her dressingroom, San Francisco,Ca. (1968). As usual in the monograph, the caricature of femininity is more interesting than that of masculinity-which embodies neither "nature"nor "culture"nor the mix of the two in nearly as flamboyant a manner as femininity. Nonetheless, in images such as these Arbus seems to have been interested in the dramatization of gender in bothmale and female bodies. (This was true elsewhere in her production as well-in her magazine-work series on Mae West and Charles Atlas, among others.) And here it seems to be

32. In Part I ("Destiny") of The SecondSex (New York: Knopf, 1953), Simone de Beauvoir mounts one of the earliest and most extended critiques of the concept of biology as destiny. At the same time, the first chapter ("The Data of Biology") is also the longest section of Part I, and it contains some existentialist emphasis upon the givens of the (sexed) body as part of the point of view of the human being that makes it somewhat different from the views of later American and French feminisms. That first chapter would be worthy of close textual scrutiny in and of itself, for it amounts to a rewriting of the story of Creation along the lines of genetics, which is not completely unlike Arbus's project, beginning with the Cell rather than the Word, and emphasizing the amorality and accidental status of the biological production of sexual difference in order to dismantle notions of gender destiny.



true that, while gender is certainly located in the body, it is also a production for specifically cultural consumption. The muscle-builder's body is clearly built; it is clearly patterned after a cultural ideal; it is clearly subject to the gaze of a contest audience. The topless dancer's body is just as clearly a matter of consumer spectacle: she presents herself quite comfortably to our gaze-she is used to it and knows her job; she touches her hair and lifts one of her exposed and framed breasts, making a display of herself. And her body, of which she is demonstrably proud, has a technological sheen that vies with that of the glossy surface of the photograph itself: her shining platinum hair, her frosted lips, her gleaming nails, and the synthetic luster of her half-tanned, half-untanned, perhaps siliconehardened breasts, all rival the glitter of her metallic dress and the glistening smoothness of her long, sheer-stockinged legs, surpassing the tawdrycommodities that surround her. Clearly she is an industrial product, her body a commodityobject subject to the laws of the market, her gender a piece of theater consummately performed for the consumer's gaze. But as much as Arbus was interested in gender caricature,so was she interested in gender-indeterminacy. Besides the stripper and the burlesque queen, the other gender-thematizing subject matter privileged in the book is that of the transvestite. In the case of A naked man beinga woman, N.Y.C. (1968), the theatricalization of the body is overt-with the two curtains on either side of the figure suggesting a proscenium arch around his body, his mask of feminine makeup, his hidden genitalia, his self-conscious contrapposto, and his trashy surrounds. As much as the topless dancer, A nakedman beinga womanpresents gender as a burlesque. As much as the topless dancer's performance of gender is located in her body, so this man's transvestitism is located in his (rather than in clothing). Yet though his "femininity"is made up and acted out, there is no real sense that the makeup on his face is contrary to its lineaments or can be peeled away to reveal his "true" masculinity, nor is there any real sense that the pose of his body goes against its physique or changes its fundamental "nature."Nevertheless, there is a fairly clear sense that this photograph is a kind of gender-burlesque-perhaps even an inadThat is to say, vertent send-up of the notion of femininity as phallic "lack."33 though A naked man beinga womandoes not suggest any particular contradiction of "nature,"it is at the same time fairly clear that his hiding of his penis does not
Here it might well be objected that the phallus is not the same as the penis, and that what 33. Arbus's photograph makes a mockery of is really that mistaken elision. However, though this objection is more consistent with a proper understanding of the theory of phallocentrism, it is notconsistent with the corporeal literalism of Arbus's photographs, in which the sheer physical factuality of the human body makes it unthinkable as any sort of linguistic or theoretical model.Hence, A naked man beinga womanachieves its send-up of the constructs of both the phallus itself and of phallic lack-and, I think, of phallocentrism as well-simply by making an absurdity out of any sublimation of the body into a categorical or theoretical system. I do also want to make it clear that none of this is a conscious project on Arbus's part: in spite of that-or perhaps because of that-the effect of her photographs is to show how much more radically subversive to gender (and other) systems is the (natural and cultural) particularity of the body than any demonstration of its constructedness.



make him a woman. His parody of femininity, for all that it is located in the body, does not make him female-all it makes of him is a man with a lean, graceful, more or less hairless body and a smooth, arched-eyebrowed, large-eyed face, made-up and posed to enhance the "femininity"of his features, and to pretendto be a woman. (By contrast, the topless dancer, for all that she, too, burlesques femininity through the very excess of her technologically framed display of female corporeality, is clearly female, is clearly a woman.) On the one hand, these two photographs demonstrate that gender is the same kind of performance, requiring the same kind of postures and appurtenances, whether the performer be male or female, and whether his or her performance be that of femininity or that of outright femaleness. On the other hand, they also show that femininity and femaleness are not identical-for while the gender performances of these two figures are the same, the facts of their sexes are different. The topless dancer and A naked man being a woman also show that difference is endlessly plural-that their bodies are sexed differently is only one of the ways in which they are different, while their gender performance-their performance of "femininity"-is really the only thing that makes them similar. Thus in these ways the topless dancer and A nakedman beinga womanhelp to show that gender difference and sexual difference are not quite the same-the one a slightly absurd cultural standard, the other a precultural and absolutely irreducible bodily reality. At the same time, with the distrust of the categorical that all of Arbus's photographs seem to promote, they also seem to show how there can be no notion of gender that is not somehow based in the irrefutable factuality of the sexed body. And, following from that, they show as well that sexual difference, at least, is infinitely inflected by particularity: A nakedman beinga womandoes not change his sex by his pose and makeup, but he does show that the "nature"of his sex is inconstant. The same goes for the female sex: as one looks through the monograph and discovers other, very differently proportioned female bodies, such as, at the other end of the spectrum, the flat-chested Girlsitting on herbedwith her shirt off, N.Y.C., the variability of sexual characteristics proves the particularity of femaleness, too-or rather, that, since so many different kinds of bodies come under the heading of the female body, the gender category to which they belong (to the extent that their gender category is founded in their sex category) becomes, on the one hand, shapeless with too much specificity, and, on the other, an abstraction detached from the particularized realities of the sexed body. Perhaps it might be useful, at this point, to make one last comparisonbetween A naked man beinga womanand the similarly posed Nudist lady with swan sunglasses,Pa., taken in 1965 and appearing a couple of pages after the Triplets. Just as posed, just as cosmetically masked as A naked man beinga woman,and just as irrefutably corporeal, the "nature" of the Nudist lady is just as elided with her "culture." And yet the same difference that obtains between A naked man being a womanand the topless dancer also obtains here: the Nudist lady is a woman while A nakedman beinga womanis not.



What is most important in this comparison, however, is the particularity of each of these bodies, underlined by the particularity of each side of the nudist woman's body. In the Nudist lady, the minimal title given to the photograph directs us to a costume detail-to the swan-shaped sunglasses worn by the lady nudist. This and other costume details frame and redouble the two-sidedness of the woman's body: two breasts, two arms, two legs, and then two shoes, whose symmetries are organized around the axis of the nose, mouth, neck, and torso. But those supplemented bodily symmetries are also thrown slightly out-of-whack by the square framing of the slightly off-center pose, such that one begins to notice the slight asymmetries inherent within the body's overall symmetry-the slightly different breasts, for instance, of the lady nudist. Thus the difference of the Nudist lady is more one of particularity than of binary opposition; her sex/gender, inarguably grounded in her body, is just one of her particularities, and it is a nonbinary particularity that is enhanced by her subtle asymmetries. And in the end, the different kinds of slight asymmetries to be discovered in all of the bodies in the monograph prove the inability of any one body to serve as any kind of corporeal model. The exploration of the differences of the body's two like sides, which works at the bodily level to undermine any standard of sameness, occurs within a thematics of costuming, of masquerading, of supplementation, in which "nature"and "culture"are all mixed up. It is worth noting not only the swan sunglasses of the lady nudist, not only her sling-back wedgies, her medallion, her lady's wristwatch, and her fringed towel, but also her synthetically feathered cap, the way her blond hair mixes with that plumage, the way her body is naturally decorated with another bit of feathering-the quite specific tufted down of her pubic hair. Not unlike the muddling of "nature"and "culture"that is to be found in the posed body and made-up face of A nakedman beinga woman,this blurring of the boundaries between what is synthetic and what is natural (which ends by making one indistinguishable from the other), this grounding of the cultural in the corporeal, all work to show how the "cultural" is simply an additional peculiarity-not a but rather of the same change of essence, not different in kind from the "natural," anarchic (dis) order of the detail. It needs to be said, in this regard, that in the Nudist ladyas well as in Arbus's work as a general rule the mask is always coextensive with the physicality of the face and body-so that the "masquerade"of gender is seen as a kind of physical production rather than a dissimulation. There are many other images that thematize the mask and the "masquerade"of gender-such as a 1967 one, appearing on the page preceding the Identicaltwins,of a lady at a masked ball with two roses on her dress in New York, and one of a woman with a bird mask, perhaps taken at the same masked ball, which comes still later in the monograph, two pages before the Childwith a toyhand grenade.Others include masked men-by and large rather less interesting than the masked and plumaged women-and Lisette Model-like closeups of women, such as a blond girl with shiny lipstick, a Puerto Rican woman with



a beauty mark, and a wealthy-looking older woman with a veil on Fifth Avenuewomen "normally" made-up and dressed-up, the "normality" of their cultural supplementation, their makeup and ornamentation, called into question, however, by the up-close scrutiny of the photograph. All of these images make the boundary between "nature"and "culture"unclear, without amounting to any sort of deconstructive demonstration regarding the cultural construction of the biological givens of the body-in other words, they do not say that it is all culture and no nature. Quite the contrary, they seem to suggest the grounding of culture's coded whims in nature's oddities, of the materiality of ornament in the racially, socially, historically, and personally specific physicality of the body, the plumage of costume in the plumage of the flesh-in short, that cultural supplementation is the biological destiny of the body, driven by its "nature"to add "culture"to itself, to differentiate itself in animal fashion by adding adornment to itself. In the cases of the topless dancer and the transvestites, gender is presented as a bodily travesty of one form or another, mixed in with one kind of bodily reality or another. But there is one photograph of a hermaphrodite in the and a dog in a carnival trailer,Md. (1970), in which we monograph, Hermaphrodite have an instance of the genetically determined conflation of the two sexes in one body, as well as an exaggerated example of corporeal asymmetry, in which the body is biologically split in its sexual characteristics-hairy on one side, more or less hairless on the other, possessing breasts, waistless torso, and male genitalia.34 (The hermaphrodite also combines the signatory supplements of the two sexes: codpiece, tattoo, and man's watch, bra, necklace, earrings, makeup, long polished nails, shaved underarm, and woman's hairdo-which means that he/she is both doubly sexed and doubly gendered.) So his/her sex/gender combination is as specifically animal in nature as it is cultural; all the decorations of his/her body seem to be as much corporeally, animally, if not naturally, motivated as they are underwritten by culture. If gender is one of the peculiar aspects of the human being that is thematized in Arbus's monographic "freakshow," then the hermaphrodite helps to emphasize that gender belongs to the biological body, that gender is merely one of the genetic deviances of that body, and that cultural supplementation of that body is merely a further deviance, motivated by "nature"as much as by "culture." In among the other photographs in the book, the sex and gender combination of the hermaphrodite (who is an "aberration," but no more of an aberration, one feels, that any of the other figures in the book) is also one of a pluralityof differences-the hermaphrodite is as different from the topless dancer as he/she is from the transvestites, as he/she is from twins and triplets and "retardates" and babies and teenagers and grown-ups and old people-"normals" and
34. Indeed, recent researchon varietiesof hermaphroditism (which is an innatelyplural, rather than a singularphenomenon) suggeststhat the disruptionof the binaryorder of gender found in the Arbus monograph is a potentialityinherent in biology itself. See Anne Fausto-Sterling, "The Five Sexes:WhyMaleand FemaleAre Not Enough,"TheSciences, 1993,pp. 20-25. March/April



all the other different "freaks." (In the end, it is obvious that there is no such thing as a "normal"-and that everybody is a slightly different "freak.") The logic of sameness and difference that the binary system of gender describes is thus disordered-for the similarities of all these figures are nonsensical and their differences are irreducible, so that neither their differences nor their similarities can be securely placed under the heading of a binary order. Difference, in short, is desystematized and shown to be absolutely irreducible. In a sense, the Aperture monograph on Diane Arbus thematizes gender precisely by refusing to do so: that is, by so mixing it up with the host of other peculiarities with which the book is overwhelmingly concerned that gender is unrecognizable as such. It is in this way that the book is subversive-not at all by confronting and foregrounding gender per se but by deprioritizing it; not by dismantling difference but, quite the opposite, by nullifying any standard of sameness, by infinitely pluralizing the binarism(s) of difference and by making an absurdity out of any hierarchy of difference, so that there is no one difference-set that dominates and organizes all others; not by denaturalizing the body but by canceling its ability to serve as the basis of any abstract category at all and making a nonsense out of its status as any kind of model; not, in sum, by confronting and exposing the "culture"of gender but by espousing and unearthing the fundamentally anarchic, model-defying dimension of its "nature"and by confounding that subversive, with the "culture"that it "nature,"which Arbus seems to find inherently in it conforms. It is this and to which way that the order and logic of produces the disorderof the genetic mutation is subverted, replaced by gender fundamentally and the illogic of the photographic punctum.It is also in this way-and only in this way-that the monograph's (dis)ordering makes some (non)sense and is all of a piece with its self-reflexive definition of the medium: for both the antilinear form of authoriality and the "other," antiapparatus conception of photography that the underwrite its antimodel insistence monograph promotes and equates with "Arbus" on the particularityof the human body and its antisystem thematization of human difference.35 Together, these strategies of the Aperture monograph on Arbus all help to remove gender from the domain of the Logos and to (dis)place it under the anarchic sign of the photo-biological, bio-photographical "Flaw."

There are, of course, ways in which it is not quite right to characterize Arbus's photography as 35. for the ideology of the apparatus includes the strategies of colonization, intrusion, and "antiapparatus," capture that are central to the history of the political uses of the camera, and which are by no means foreign to Arbus's work. Thus her images-and, in particular, their presentation in the monographare "antiapparatus" only insofar as they defy the system of categorization that is part of the apparatus's strategy of colonization, and insofar as they define their medium in terms of a bodily and psychic model other than that of the prosthetic machine. My interest in alternative bodily and psychic models of the medium, which extends beyond the work of Arbus to certain other women photographers, depends very loosely on Luce Irigaray's This Sex WhichIs Not One, trans. Catherine Porter (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1985).