America, seen through photographs, darkly

As the title suggests, the author follows the development of photographic subject matter over time. She says that in the beginning, photographs were expected to be “perfect” and show the best side of an already beautiful subject. From here a photographer named Whitman argued that photographs should capture beauty in the mundane, and sought to bring out the best of “trivial” subject matter such as the daily lives of ordinary Americans. The author then discusses the work of Diane Arbus, which comprises the bulk of the article. The author argues that Arbus’ work, which sought to shock viewers by capturing the ugly and freakish people of America, was in fact not so different from Whitman’s approach in that it suggests a common experience among humans, albeit a pessimistic one.

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