Synopses & Reviews
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.
"Schultz's biography of the talented, deeply troubled photographer Diane Arbus, who committed suicide in 1971, takes the form of an ambitious 'psychobiography' an account of Arbus's inner life in which he regards her photographs through the lens of psychological theory to speculate on her motivations and obsessions. It is the first account of Arbus's life since Patricia Bosworth's acclaimed Diane Arbus in 1989, and Schultz (editor of the Handbook of Psychobiography) makes good use of biographical material released by the Arbus estate since Bosworth's book as well as interviews with Arbus's psychotherapist to shed new light on the photographer's artistic aims, particularly her choice of subject matter: transvestites, circus performers, 'freaks.' He argues, for example, that Arbus's obsession with twins, whether literal twins or mirror images and doppelgÃ¤ngers, was an expression of her own psychological defense mechanisms. 'The bad and the good,' he writes, 'are kept far apart to protect the good from infiltration.' Ideally, this approach of using the work to speculate on the artist's psyche would yield some fresh insight into the work itself. Instead, Schultz's interpretations of Arbus's photographs can be repetitive and shallow. Nonetheless, his sensitivity to Arbus's inner life and the links between mental illness and creativity make this a provocative, if not always persuasive, addition to the literature on Arbus. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"A biography that wisely recognizes the ultimate mystery of every life." Kirkus Reviews
"Exceptional prose, illuminating psychological theory, and the visceral memories of those who knew her add up to a haunting portrait of Arbus as a tenacious and quixotic artist whose outré photographs blaze on in all their strange romance, protest, and longing." Booklist
"William Todd Schultz has done the impossible; hes pulled Diane Arbus out from under the black shroud of the photographers cape and into the light. An Emergency in Slow Motion is the book Arbuss legions of admirers have long waited for: a vivisection of her psyche that allows us -- the voyeurs she made of us -- to understand her stark, accusatory vision." Kathryn Harrison, author of The Kiss
"This portrait of the art and psyche of Diane Arbus is exciting and wrenching and full of revelations. And it is a model for the promise of William Todd Schultz's larger project to infuse psychobiography with curiosity, humility, and intelligence. Readers may be left, as I was, considering the eternal, essential, impossible problem: how to look at darkness." Wolf Shenk, author of Lincoln's Melancholy
"In this insightful and moving analysis of the life (and suicide) of Diane Arbus, Todd Schultz has written a short psychological symphony. He begins with a few simple themes—about secrets and sex, about photographing freaks, about being a freak and photographing the self. Calling upon contemporary psychological research, extraordinary empathy, and a deep understanding of how madness and creativity often intersect, Schultz introduces surprising variations on these themes, as the music builds in complexity, texture, and beauty, pulling the reader forward, inexorably, to the dramatic conclusion. The audience pauses for a moment at the very end, to savor the spine-tingling sensation. And then: exuberant applause. Bravo!" Dan P. McAdams, author of George W. Bush and the Redemptive Dream
About the Author
William Todd Schultz is a professor of psychology at Pacific University in Oregon, focusing on personality research and psychobiography. He edited and contributed to the groundbreaking Handbook of Psychobiography, and curates the book series Inner Lives, analyses of significant artists and political figures. His own book in the series, Tiny Terror, examines the life of Truman Capote. Todd Schultz blogs for Psychology Today.