CAN Research 4.2 Diane Arbus


These are thoughts on Liz Jobey’s essay on the Diane Arbus photograph entitled ‘A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing, NYC. 1966’. 

(Arbus, 1971)

I purchased the book ‘Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs’ edited by Sophie Howarth (Howarth, 2005).  Interestingly, in Howarth’s introduction, we are told that the idea for this book came from a bet. Beaumont Newell was challenged to speak for one hour about one photograph. He chose Alfred Stieglitz’s ‘The Steerage’. The story goes that he very easily spent one hour talking about the photograph and won the bet. 

As with all of Arbus’ work, there is, to me, an inappropriate, intrusive, almost abusive feeling to it.  In this case, it is the ‘retarded child’ (Jobey’s words!).  Jobey quotes Susan Sontag who accuses Arbus of a lack of compassion for producing photographs from a dissociated point of view.  I agree with Sontag. 

I agree with Jobey when she speaks of feeling that the family were trapped by politeness or vanity and thereby losing control. 

As an OCA student shortly embarking upon the Identity and Place module I am aware that I will have to identify and photograph five complete strangers. Reading the analysis of this unpleasant photograph reminds me of the responsibility to respect one’s subject. 


Arbus, D. (1971). A young Brooklyn family going for a Sunday outing. [image] Available at: [Accessed 8 Jan. 2020].

Howarth, S. (2005). Singular Images: Essays on Remarkable Photographs. London: Tate Publishing, pp.67-76.

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