Visual Arts

Street Smart

She's been dead for 34 years, but Diane Arbus, the photographer who found her muse among the weird and the seedy, is hot again thanks to a retrospective of her work at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. You don't have to journey to Gotham to see her startling photos of carnies, transvestites, nudists and twins, though. Forty-three of Arbus' most famous images are, at this very moment, hanging on museum walls in Scottsdale as part of an exhibition that shows Arbus' work alongside the photographers who influenced her, and the ones whom she influenced. The 170-plus-piece exhibition doesn't quite succeed in showing how the accidental strangeness of early 20th-century documentary photography morphed into the deliberate strangeness of late 20th-century art photography, because in the age of CGI and Photoshop, we've almost forgotten photos were ever factual records. But the show brings you face to face with some of Arbus' most intense images.

The horrific photo of the skinny boy clutching the hand grenade is there, as is the one of the naked transvestite with his penis stuffed between his legs. There are powerful images by other legendary photographers: Jeffrey Silverthorne's corpses, August Sander's German folk, Weegee's disorderly street freaks. But it's Arbus' photos that shatter you. Even though some are more than four decades old, their revelation of the subjects' secrets remains hard to look at -- and impossible to look away from.

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Leanne Potts