[Lubow] brilliantly demonstrates how the emotionally fragile state of an artist can be channeled into something wondrous. His depiction shows us why her startlingly original photographs still stand on their own merit while simultaneously mirroring the photographer’s fractured psyche ... The image of Arbus that emerges from Lubow’s superbly crafted text, which draws on exclusive interviews with those who knew her intimately, is an extremely disturbing one ... Lubow is a talented and sensitive writer, and he doesn’t shy away from confronting the controversies that shadowed Arbus throughout her career ... Lubow himself seems to be trying to like Arbus more than he really does.
Her story has been told and, no doubt, distorted quite a bit over the decades. But Lubow’s deeply researched and muted narrative — there’s no need to sensationalize with purple prose a life so strange and so shadowed — reads definitively ... Lubow chronicles Arbus’s rise and fall with a novelistic intensity that plumbs the decisive moments of a driven, unsettled soul. Along the way, he explores the complex intersections of her life and art, and delivers a major work that helps us see how Arbus saw, and how she told single-frame stories that keep speaking to us.
Lubow charts every up and down of Arbus’s sexual and emotional life during what was, after all, a fairly brief creative career, less than 20 years ... chopped up into 85 short chapters, with breathy titles such as 'Freak Show' and 'I Think We Should Tell You, We’re Men,' the book reads more like a novel — salacious, mysterious (another favorite word of hers) and harrowing ... All this is delivered in a formulaic prose that is generally as compelling as a textbook. This reader longed, on the one hand, for more passion and, on the other, for more depth, a diversion of the narrative headway to explore the philosophical connection between eye and body, between seeing and being ... Yet the narrative gives us something more important than anything it lacks: the embodied voice of Arbus herself.
...written a tepid and bloodless book, one that demonstrates the defects and virtues of consummate professionalism. It’s all here, but the details remain flat on the page, as if pressed on with Fun-Tak ... Mr. Lubow does get Arbus’s life onto paper, however, and there is no denying that her story is a whirlpool, sucking you in ... One of his book’s achievements is to take us inside the making of famous image after famous image.
Lubow is entering a crowded arena, for the Arbus industry is hardly a place of repose. Yet the author fights for his spot, and earns it. His research is unflagging and his timing is good, for Arbus could scarcely be more fashionable, with her thrill at the fluidity of genders, and her trafficking with anonymity and fame ... Lubow is more intent upon the shifts in Arbus’s work. He is rightly amused, too, by the clash of her professional ardor with her domestic duties ... Readers of Lubow’s biography may feel not just the heft of the thing, over seven hundred pages and twice as long as Bosworth’s, but a nagging suspicion that it dreams of being a novel.
Mr. Lubow is unflagging in his effort to understand Diane Arbus and to unravel her many persistent mysteries, including 'the psychological need that had drawn her to photography: the desire not only to see but to be seen.' Diane Arbus is as digressive a biography as I’ve read in a long time, with stops along the way to provide a brief history of, say, New Journalism or to fill in the contours of the lives of Arbus’s women friends, even the ones she barely stayed in touch with. Mr. Lubow might have done the reader a favor by filtering out some of the information he has so assiduously gathered, but his 'more is more' approach also builds on itself as the book goes along, giving you the sense that you are learning about the history of photography as well as about Arbus.
Lubow digs deeper, but without shedding much more light than either of his predecessors on her art or the deep discontentments that fuelled it ... What emerges most forcefully from Lubow’s long portrait is not just the all-consuming nature of Diane Arbus’s dark creative vision, but what it cost to obsessively pursue and yet be so dissatisfied by its relentless demands.
[Lubow] examines her life so closely it often feels voyeuristic. And yet, there's something so compelling about Arbus that, like her photos, it's hard to look away ... perusing Arbus' work, it's possible to catch glimpses of her subjects' identities. In this book, Lubow gives us a bigger gift -- a good, long look into who Arbus was and at the photography legacy she left us.
Lubow is not an abstract thinker; instead, he spends most of the book trying to convince us that Arbus was neither as perverse nor as tragic as she sometimes seemed ... Lubow is at his best, however, when his focus includes not just the photographer but her camera. He surveys the history of photography in America as he glides from each of Arbus’s images to the next. The book canvasses the careers of Robert Frank and Richard Avedon alongside Arbus ... Still, Lubow is somewhat hampered as he tracks Arbus’s life, as opposed to her work. He reveals, early in the book, that he was not granted access to the Diane Arbus archive held by the Museum of Modern Art.
...masterwork of a biography, a chunky, overstuffed brick of a book with 100 pages of acknowledgements, references and stylish footnotes – the new kind without numbers ... Through 85 snappy chapters organized into seven parts, Lubow lays out a wide field of personal and professional testimony – psychological, aesthetic and cultural ... Lubow does a masterful job locating the train of people who touch Arbus’ life during a hot time in U.S. culture.
Lubow’s style is for the most part descriptive and reportorial rather than sensational or analytic, and can suffer from the flatness of too much tell and not enough show ... At the front of the book he lists 157 of Arbus’s photographs which are to be 'discussed in the text' but not reproduced...though one can admire his efforts to supply written descriptions of each picture, it becomes frustrating, or, worse, a challenge to break off and look for them elsewhere ... Though Lubow never gets inside Arbus’s head, he does bring the reader to an understanding of how her life wound down.
...[a] ruthlessly researched and beautifully written book ... Lubow walks a tightrope himself. He defends Arbus and expertly places her work within the history of photography...But he also refrains from filtering out unflattering details ... Maybe it's for the best that Lubow's biography contains no images, leaving us to focus on the patterns of Arbus' life and work.
...in detonating the taboo at the beginning, Lubow defuses it, too. It is not the climax of the book, but one more beveled pane of the window onto its subject ... Lubow’s descriptions of her uptown childhood are among the most vivid in the book and establish its recurrent themes ... The author’s workaround is clever: Individual short chapters are dedicated to her most iconic pictures—textual snapshots, as it were. We get the story behind the photographs.