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“Exceptional prose, illuminating psychological theory, and the visceral memories of those who knew her add up to a haunting portrait of Arbus as a tenacious and quixotic artist whose outré photographs blaze on in all their strange romance, protest, and longing.” —Booklist
"With extraordinary interviews with new sources, William Todd Schultz’s An Emergency in Slow Motion... promises to be an explosive contribution to what’s known about Diane Arbus." - Daily Beast
"A sensitive but deeply provocative psychobiography." - Vogue.com
"Schultz is a sharp, lucid writer... He proceeds with a sense of reflection, perspective, and nuance." - NPR.org
"Our Virgil on this journey into [Arbus's] inner world is William Todd Schultz... he marshals an impressive list of sources... [and] sifts and shapes his material with flair." - Telegraph (UK)
"William Todd Schultz has done the impossible; he’s pulled Diane Arbus out from under the black shroud of the photographer’s cape and into the light. An Emergency in Slow Motion is the book Arbus’s legions of admirers have long waited for: a vivisection of her psyche that allows us—the voyeurs she made of us—to understand her stark, accusatory vision." —Kathryn Harrison, author of The Kiss
“This portrait of the art and psyche of Diane Arbus is exciting and wrenching and full of revelations. And it is a model for the promise of William Todd Schultz's larger project to infuse psychobiography with curiosity, humility, and intelligence. Readers may be left, as I was, considering the eternal, essential, impossible problem: how to look at darkness. —Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Lincoln's Melancholy
“Schultz has written a short psychological symphony. He begins with a few simple themes—about secrets and sex, about photographing freaks, about being a freak and photographing the self. Calling upon contemporary psychological research, extraordinary empathy, and a deep understanding of how madness and creativity often intersect, Schultz introduces surprising variations on these themes, as the music builds in complexity, texture, and beauty, pulling the reader forward, inexorably, to the dramatic conclusion" —Dan P. McAdams, author of George W. Bush and the Redemptive Dream
A theorist of psychobiography offers an example of his favored approach in an exploration of a most perplexing figure, the edgy and controversial photographer Diane Arbus (1923–1971).
Arbus provides a promising canvas for Schultz, who's also written about Truman Capote (Tiny Terror, 2011). He sketches the privileged childhood of Arbus, whose brother was poet Howard Nemerov (the talented siblings engaged in a little youthful sex play, says Schultz), and highlights the significance of an early memory of seeing a shantytown. The author moves briskly through her career, returning continually to the notion that as Arbus' subject were often freaks, so she, too, was one. He dusts off the familiar notion that her photographs are generally about herself—she sought herself, reflected herself, found herself in others. Her final group of subjects—the mentally retarded—she found frustrating to work with, writes Schultz, because she could not elicit from them the interactions she found so essential. The author also focuses on Arbus' sex life, noting how frequently she posed her subjects in their beds (including TV icons Ozzie and Harriet in 1971) and how she sometimes engaged in sex acts with the people she was photographing. She seduced her subjects, writes Schultz, sometimes in multiple ways. An exception was Germaine Greer; their session was a remarkable struggle of wills, which Greer won. Arbus had one failed marriage, a late-life affair that didn't work out, countless sex partners, a battle with hepatitis, an odd course of psychotherapy and issues with cash flow—all culminating in the stress and depression that led to her suicide. Schultz writes in detail about her death and remains uncertain if she fully intended to kill herself.
Though sometimes clanging with psychological jargon, a biography that wisely recognizes the ultimate mystery of every life.
Chapter 1 Essential Mysteries 10
Chapter 2 The Secret 30
Chapter 3 Fairy Tales for Grown-ups 68
Chapter 4 Shame Erasing 110
Chapter 5 The Black Knot 140
Chapter 6 Sweeping Back the Ocean 116
Chapter 7 The Hole in the Ground Where Secrets Lived 202
A Note on Sources 219