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An Emergency in Slow Motion: The Inner Life…
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An Emergency in Slow Motion: The Inner Life of Diane Arbus (2011)

by William Todd Schultz

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Does anyone else horrified that Arbus's therapist was willing to share her insight and session analyses with the author? I thought that client-patient info was privileged, even after death.

I'd never heard the term psychobiography before and wasn't sure what to expect. I think that this book is best read with a copy of Revelations (and possibly the Untitled monograph from Aperture) nearby so that the reader can cross-reference quotes and photographs. ( )
  VikkiLaw | Apr 4, 2013 |
Schultz is a dogged analyst, fixated on certain facets of Arbus' life and personality, in order to explain her unique artistic choices and her unfortunate demise. However, he lacks the larger vision necessary to put this person into a realistic, vital context. He looks at Arbus through the wrong end of the lens, reducing her to fit certain psychological diagnoses, which is neither fair to Arbus or fruitful for the reader. Schultz also tends to repeat ideas and phrases throughout the book, seemingly unable to leave the confines of his limited conceptions. The comparison of Arbus to Kurt Cobain, in particular, seems lacking the first time he makes it, and progressively less cogent as he does it a second and third time. I did appreciate his research regarding Arbus' own psychoanalyst and how her own theoretical and personal background might have affected and do reflect on Arbus' life and death. ( )
1 vote scottapeshot | Mar 30, 2013 |
I was looking forward to reading this book because I am intrigued by Arbus' photography and wanted a more truthful depiction than the film Fur provided. Unfortunately, I don't really feel that I got that. Schultz is open about the fact that even after several years of researching her work and trying to achieve insider knowledge from people like her family and psychiatrist, 'Arbus is a mystery'.

The psychobiographical approach sees Schultz interpret Arbus through her art and he acknowledges the limitations of this. However, the extensive use of two previous works on Arbus (a biography by Patricia Boswell and Revelations, the book containing a vast number of Arbus' work as well as diary entries produced by her estate) combined with no reproductions of photographs described by the author, led me to a fairly frustrating time of parallel reading Revelations as well as doubting the interpretations Schultz presents. There just wasn't enough there for me to engage with. I was pretty disappointed with this book, although my interest in Arbus is sufficient to see if the Boswell book is available at the University library where I work. ( )
1 vote tixylix | Feb 19, 2012 |
This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.
William Todd Schultz’s psycho-biography, “An Emergency in Slow Motion, The Inner Life of Diane Arbus”, is a psychological interpretation of Diane Arbus’ interior life and how it influenced her photographic work. Conversely, Schultz also looked at how Arbus’ work – her subject matter - may have affected her psyche. Most of the author’s resources came from previously published books and articles. He added a few personal interviews, one with Ms. Arbus’ psychologist, Helen Boigon, and the other with one of her potential photographic subjects, the Kronhausens’. Having a background in photography and a personal interest in it, I own and read the same material Schultz used to conduct his study. Mainly, Patricia Bosworth’s 1984 biography of Diane Arbus and two of her photography books, issued by Doon Arbus and her Estate through Aperture. These contain personal interviews with Arbus, taped recordings from her classes, as well as her previously written texts. (Arbus was an excellent and prolific writer as well as photographer. She often wrote the text that accompanied her magazine articles.) At the time Ms. Arbus took her life, in 1971, she was considered a legend who influenced her students as well as professional photographers. Today, some 40 years later, she still inspires many emerging and established artists.

As with anyone who has attained this stature, especially those who may not have appreciated her likeness of them, rumors and misrepresentations often abound. As it relates to Diane Arbus, the anecdote the public is most aware of, and is in fact accurate, is Ms. Arbus’ fight with depression. Beyond that, is speculation and rumor. Our culture is all too eager to ride the salacious tide when a “weakness” is perceived. Especially if we dislike the person in question or when there is money to be made. This is why I question, the author’s new sources, the Kronhausens’ and Dr. Helen Boigon. The Kronhausens’ do not appear to like Ms. Arbus. If what they related to Schultz was true, it was better left unsaid because it was personal and does not add to our understanding of Diane as a photographer. What it does tell us has more to say about the people she was with and our experimental culture at that time - the 1960’s. As it stands, it sounds more like an embellished story developed by the Kronhausens’, possibly because she did not photograph them and make them a part of her vast, insightful portfolio. Helen Boigon’s interviews with the author make one question her abilities as a psychologist. Granted, psychology has come a long way since the 1960’s and its findings do not maintain the same credibility as it did then. However, Ms. Boigon’s analysis of Ms. Arbus felt sophomoric, outdated and overstated; despite the fact Schultz interviewed her in 2007. She also admitted during her interview that she did not dislike Ms. Arbus, but did not like her and reluctantly took a photograph that she disliked from Arbus as a gift (Identical twins, Roselle, N.J. Twins).( Ironically, she did have an understanding of its value since she sold it to put her daughter through medical school.) By virtue of Boigon’s analysis, Diane Arbus lived her adult life psychologically incompetent. Schultz agrees with parts of Ms. Boigon’s theory but not all of it. However, whether or not they are of the same mind as it relates to specifics, they both assessed Arbus in a manner that leaves one wondering if they are speaking about the same photographer. During her lifetime, Ms. Arbus produced thousand of photographs, was in numerous exhibits, had her work and writing in the best magazines –Art Forum, Life, etc.- and taught at Universities and ran photography workshops. If she was as incompetent as Schultz and Boigon make her out to be, she would not have been able to perform at the level she did. What is most disturbing about this book is the breech of doctor-patient confidentiality by Dr. Boigon, per the author’s request, a practicing psychologist. My main problem with the entire book is Schultz’s analysis was over stated and repetitious. He repeated himself throughout the entire book and at points where it was not necessary. Likewise, he over analyzed to the point of being ridiculous. His studies did not warrant an entire book. Did Diane Arbus suffer from depression and all its side effects – without a doubt. Did it render her incompetent, no.

There is one point where I am in agreement with the author. By virtue of Ms. Arbus’ notes and conversations with friends, Schultz does not believe Ms. Arbus wanted to bring an end to her photographic work. He is uncertain as to whether she truly wanted to take her life, or, at the time, just stop the pain within her. Diane Arbus loved photography and was actively working on projects when she took her life. A month before her suicide, she photographed Nixon’s daughters’ wedding and also taught a week’s photography workshop. She was having a rough summer, emotionally. Her two daughters were grown and away, her lover away with his wife and her ex-husband was in California. She hated and feared her depression. Alone and depressed, it just became too much for her. For these reasons, I concur with Schultz’s assessment. We lost a great photographer well before her time. Had someone been there, would she have lived until her natural death? We’ll never know. One thing we do know for sure is that she was an outstanding photographer and writer who was not incompetent. How and what she suffered from should not be over dramatized and analyzed, but used to help prevent further suicides. This book does not shed light on anything new about Ms. Arbus’ psychological state as it relates to her work. However, it has an indirect message about suicide. That is, certain circumstances prevail when people are most likely to commit suicide. Make yourself aware of them and seek help.

Diane Arbus was a remarkable photographer who contributed much to the world of photography. She exposed us to a world previously unseen and ignored by our culture; freaks, so to speak, and other socially unacceptable members of society. Thanks to Ms. Arbus there are not as many social secrets, or at least the pretense of them. It is okay to photograph people as they are and not as we wish them to be. It does not make us a freak to do so, only human. Her work speaks for itself. All else is just useless speculation that provides little more than gossip.

Review by Beth Lyons ( )
  BALE | Dec 28, 2011 |
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Book description
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 in 1971, at the age of forty-eight, 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. He seeks not to diagnose Arbus, but to discern some of the private motives behind her public works and acts. In this approach, Schultz not only goes deeper into Arbus's life than any previous writer, but provides a template with which to think about the creative life in general.

Schultz's careful analysis is informed, in part, by the recent release of some of Arbus's writing and work by her estate, as well as by interviews with Arbus's psychotherapist. 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.
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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 48 in 1971, the presumed chaos and darkness of her own inner life became, for many viewers, inextricable from her work. ... [This book] reveals the creative and personal struggles of Diane Arbus. [The author] 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. He seeks not to diagnose Arbus, but to discern some of the private motives behind her public works and acts. In this approach, [the author] not only goes deeper into her life than any previous writer, but provides a template with which to think about the creative life in general."--Book jacket.… (more)

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