I just spent the day looking through the Diane Arbus exhibit at the Met, and I think that the inclusion of all her notes and some of her equipment is one of the best things I have seen in a posthumous retrospective. I saw a show of Lartigue's work in Paris - work which was all about what camera he had at what point in his life - and there wasn't a single camera to be found. Quite an ommission I think, especially for a photographer. Granted formalist art critics (which Peter Schejldahl of the New Yorker seems to be) feel that one should only look at the work and not at the artist or the process, I think that if you are trying to improve as photographer, seeing how an image got made is key. Equipment is part of that. For example: Arbus seems to have first worked with a meterless Nikon F, but looking at the contact sheets provided, she shot nearly entire rolls with every shot in portrait orientation. Landscape is pretty well the default orientation, so I can only guess from the number of portrait orientation shots and prints that Arbus "saw" something compositionally that led her to make that choice - something I am guessing that had something to do with shooting people (who tend to be vertical unless sleeping), but might (might) have also had to do with isolating the subject to control the image's psychological impact. She next worked with a Rolleiflex, which she writes took her a year to switch to after using the Nikon. What's most interesting to me though is that she used a Rollei Wide, not the standard Rollei. That may be why many of her photos have strangely proportioned people - I mean was the head on that photo, Boy with Toy Hand Grenade, really that big or was it the wide angle lens working its magic? Looks like the latter. It also explains perhaps how/why she got so close to some of her subjects, shots that look much too close (to me) for a standard Rollei lens. Later still she starts using a Mamiya C33 with a 55mm, 80mm and 135mm lens. Again, this helps (me) make sense of some of her shots, given what the subjects look like in their surroundings, where she must have been standing in relation to them, how much depth of field is in the photograph and the changes in some of the portraiture (which begins to feel less intimate, less sweaty, perhaps merely because she did not have to stand so close, given the 135mm lens instead of the Rollei Wide's lens.) And finally she borrows a new Pentax 6x7, which she admits in writing to "lust after." We all know that language here. Further, she says that she feels using the 6x7 with its eye-level finder and large negative size will be the best of both worlds - a medium format Nikon - allowing her to "make pictures more narrative and temporal, less fixed and single and complete and isolated." What a great advertizement for a 6x7! This statement leads me to guess that perhaps the whole square thing (almost an Arbus trademark) was incidental to image quality - using a TLR in order to use medium format film and get a larger negative, the square only being a secondary result as an aesthetic tool (perhaps a duh-moment for me, but sometimes I am slow.) In a sense, it sounds to me from reading her notes that she was aware her photographs might have been over-taken by a Diane Arbus "Look" rather than progressing in a way that might challenge the facility she had developed in creating that look over the course of her career. Who knows? She killed herself. I have never accepted the cult thing myself. All I know is that I like her photography and see it as a continuation of the sort of work that August Sander did with his People of the Twentieth Century. Sure she posed and collaborated with her subjects, but so did Sander. Sure she took a lot of photographs of freaks, but looking through the photographs in this show, the people who are typically freaks in our society are no more (and perhaps are less) freakish that the Waspy socialites and hat ladies she shot in between. Just like Sander, I think Arbus' photographs show a sense that the absurdities of society create a nut house the same size as the world, and that some people got lost while others live on, and none of this makes a whole lot of sense.