Diane Arbus - In the beginning | Hayward Gallery

After the weirdly-curated Lee Bul show here last year, I was wondering what funny treatment the renovated Hayward Gallery would give this iconic photographer. But it’s very well put together, with the small black and white work arranged, seemingly randomly, against white posts in strict grid formation; based, apparently, on the New York streets on which Diane Arbus found some of her most memorable scenes.

The exhibition concentrates on the early career, being mainly made up of photos shot on 35mm between 1956 and 1962. Most haven’t been seen in the UK before, and are taken from Arbus’ archive, held at the Met.

installation view

As the viewer is encouraged to wander from work to work, without any through narrative, I’m not going to focus on any individual photos - but instead will concentrate on how the show made me feel as a whole.

I enjoyed Arbus’ theatricality. Far from a street photographer, she enjoyed backstage views of circus or drag performers in heavy makeup. Even more removed from real life, she enjoyed photographing screen melodramas - cinematic ladies screaming or crying.

At the same time, she captures great emotion and feeling from her subjects, as they catch her - and her large 35mm camera - focusing on them. I particularly loved her innocent, unblinking, unaffected children, looking shamelessly and boldly down the lens, from half a century ago.

Diane Arbus: In the beginning is at Hayward Gallery (London). 13 February - 06 May 2019.