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Sunday at the Met
Diane Arbus Revelations
April 10, 2005

Written by
Wendy R. Williams


Photograph copyright © 1966
The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

On Sunday, April 10th, I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see two fascinating movies by Neil Selkirk, a documentary entitled Who Was Marvin Israel and A Slide Show and Talk by Diane Arbus (compiled and edited by Neil Selkirk, Doon Arbus and Adam Shott). I had attended the opening of Diane Arbus Revelations (courtesy of the Susan and Neil Selkirk’s kind invitation) and was given a copy of the book Diane Arbus Revelations (also courtesy of the Selkirks). Neil is Diane Arbus’s printer; he was a friend of Diane’s and became her printer after her death. There is a very interesting essay in Revelations titled In the Darkroom. In this essay, Neil writes about how he painstakingly copies Diane’s work as he makes her prints. Neil’s meticulous printing can be seen in the photographs displayed the Metropolitan’s exhibit, also entitled Diane Arbus Revelations. This show is being displayed in the Metropolitan Museum’s Special Exhibition Galleries on the 2nd floor from March 8, 2005–May 30, 2005.

Richard Avedon and Marvin Israel supervising the hanging
of an exhibit of Avedon's work at the
Museum of Fine Arts in Minneapolis

The film Who Was Marvin Israel is a documentary about Neil and Diane’s friend and colleague, Marvin Israel. Marvin Israel was the art editor of Harper’s Bazaar from 1961 through 1963 and while there he published the photographs of many of his “discoveries” like Diane Arbus, Richard Avedon and Lee Friedlander. Here is a fun quote about Marvin from photographer Frank Horvat, “He (Marvin) was a small, not very healthy person, who dressed like a bum and furnished his studio with rejected objects he found in the streets. He made it a point to appear unfriendly, imitated in this by his ugly little dog, also called Marvin, about whom he would warn visitors "be careful, Marvin bites."

Neil tells his story through interviews with Marvin’s protégés and his Parsons students. He tells the story of Marvin, Marvin’s dog Marvin, the studio at 121 Fifth with its many beds and birds (the cupola at 121 Fifth), Marvin’s amazing and fun notebooks, Marvin’s love of being horizontal (he belonged to the Horizontalists at Yale) and most importantly of all, about Marvin’s amazing eye for talent. For that seems to have been Marvin’s real genius, the gift of seeing and recognizing the talent of those around him. And the same can be said for Neil; he saw both Marvin and Diane and knew that their stories must be told.

The next part of the program was a film made from a slideshow of Diane Arbus’s photographs (and other photographs she loved) with a sound track of Diane talking about why she loved those photographs. This film was compiled from an audio recording of a commentary Diane gave at a former slide show. I love Diane Arbus’s photographs (she has an amazing eye) and it was wonderful to hear her talk about her work: why she took certain photos; what they meant to her; and last but not least, to hear her talk about all the photographs she had taken that she did not like and ended up not printing. It is always reassuring to hear that the gods can be human.

Neil’s films can next be seen in December at London's Victoria and Albert Museum.

Copy and paste this link into your browser for more information on the Metropolitan exhibit: http://www.metmuseum.org/special/se_event.asp?OccurrenceId={E9C11548-26E7-431C-9F83-03E1EBC758CD}&HomePageLink=special_c1b


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