An Emergency in Slow Motion: The Inner Life of Diane Arbus

An Emergency in Slow Motion: The Inner Life of Diane Arbus

by William Todd Schultz
     
 

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Diane Arbus was one of the most brilliant and revered photographers in the history of American art. Her portraits, in stark black and white, seemed to reveal the psychological truths of their subjects. But after she committed suicide at the age of forty-eight in 1971, the presumed chaos and darkness of her own inner life became, for many viewers, inextricable from

Overview

Diane Arbus was one of the most brilliant and revered photographers in the history of American art. Her portraits, in stark black and white, seemed to reveal the psychological truths of their subjects. But after she committed suicide at the age of forty-eight in 1971, the presumed chaos and darkness of her own inner life became, for many viewers, inextricable from her work.

In the spirit of Janet Malcolm's classic examination of Sylvia Plath, The Silent Woman, William Todd Schultz's An Emergency in Slow Motion reveals the creative and personal struggles of Diane Arbus. Schultz veers from traditional biography to interpret Arbus's life through the prism of four central mysteries: her outcast affinity, her sexuality, the secrets she kept and shared, and her suicide. An Emergency in Slow Motion combines new revelations and breathtaking insights into a must-read psychobiography about a monumental artist—the first new look at Arbus in twenty-five years.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Schultz's biography of the talented, deeply troubled photographer Diane Arbus, who committed suicide in 1971, takes the form of an ambitious "psychobiography"—an account of Arbus's inner life in which he regards her photographs through the lens of psychological theory to speculate on her motivations and obsessions. It is the first account of Arbus's life since Patricia Bosworth's acclaimed Diane Arbus in 1989, and Schultz (editor of the Handbook of Psychobiography) makes good use of biographical material released by the Arbus estate since Bosworth's book—as well as interviews with Arbus's psychotherapist—to shed new light on the photographer's artistic aims, particularly her choice of subject matter: transvestites, circus performers, "freaks." He argues, for example, that Arbus's obsession with twins, whether literal twins or mirror images and doppelgängers, was an expression of her own psychological defense mechanisms. "The bad and the good," he writes, "are kept far apart to protect the good from infiltration." Ideally, this approach of using the work to speculate on the artist's psyche would yield some fresh insight into the work itself. Instead, Schultz's interpretations of Arbus's photographs can be repetitive and shallow. Nonetheless, his sensitivity to Arbus's inner life and the links between mental illness and creativity make this a provocative, if not always persuasive, addition to the literature on Arbus. (Sept.)
From the Publisher

“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

Kirkus Reviews

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781608197552
Publisher:
Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
10/15/2013
Pages:
256
Sales rank:
534,129
Product dimensions:
5.00(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

William Todd Schultz is a professor of psychology at Pacific University in Oregon, focusing on personality research and psychobiography. He edited and contributed to the groundbreaking Handbook of Psychobiography, and curates the book series Inner Lives, analyses of significant artists and political figures. His own book in the series, Tiny Terror, examines the life of Truman Capote. Schultz blogs for PsychologyToday.com and lives in Portland, Oregon. Torment Saint, a biography of Elliott Smith, is forthcoming from Bloomsbury.

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