Diane Arbus 1971–1956, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

During her brief 15-year career Diane Arbus (b.1923) made a bold and singular impression on photography: one which is underlined and celebrated in this retrospective at Fraenkel Gallery, running from 31 October until 28 December. Always concerned with obscuring the familiar and uncovering the exotic in the everyday, this exhibition traces Arbus’ interests and obsessions from her first negative until her final work.

Taking inspiration for her subjects in the streets of 1950s and 1960s New York, Arbus photographed a “contemporary anthropology” of the city with portraits of couples, children, carnival performers, nudists, middle-class families, tranvestites, zealots, eccentrics and celebrities, all of whom come together in her work to stand as an allegory of the human experience. Reality gets knotted up with illusion and identity is mingled with theatre across this collection of around 60 photographs. The images detail singular individuals and private places, shot with a shocking and stripped-back purity, where subjects stare right back into the lens and facial expressions and body language speak volumes.

Diane Arbus 1971-1956 examines the artist’s evolution through one picture per year, starting with images made shortly before her death in 1971 and progressing, in reverse order, toward the beginning, with little known works (including Woman in a fur stole, N.Y.C. 1971; Masked man in white, NYC. 1967; and Person Unknown, City Morgue, N.Y.C. 1960) juxtaposed with the shots that made her name.

Having traveled to seven institutions, sharing Arbus’ work with a global audience, this retrospective exhibition at the Fraenkel is a unique opportunity for another community of gallery-goers to experience Arbus’ inimitable style and to explore the origins, scope and aspirations of a wholly original force in photography.

Diane Arbus 1971-1956, until 28 December, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, 49 Geary Street, 4th Floor, San Francisco, CA 94108.

1. Two ladies at the automat, N.Y.C. 1966, Diane Arbus, courtesy of Fraenkel Gallery.