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An Emergency in Slow Motion: The Inner Life of Diane Arbus
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An Emergency in Slow Motion: The Inner Life of Diane Arbus

3.41 of 5 stars 3.41  ·  rating details  ·  171 ratings  ·  35 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 wor ...more
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published August 30th 2011 by Bloomsbury USA
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Note: This book was a GoodReads First Read

A few years back I Saw the film "Fur" starring Nicole Kidman and Robert Downey Jr. (and dorky dad from "Modern Family"!)- a sort of dramatized imaging of how Diane Arbus came to be the photographer we know her as. After viewing this film I was of course with left with more questions about Ms. Arbus- how did she *really* come to be a photographer of such bizarre and provoking photos? So you can imagine my excitement when I came across Mr. Schultz's new "p
I won this book from First Reads not knowing much about Diane Arbus other than knowing from museum exhibits her intense, confrontational photographs - the twins, the carnival freaks, the Jewish giant at home with his parents - and vaguely remembering hearing something about her as an artist who committed suicide.

An Emergency in Slow Motion is not a traditional biography; Schultz terms it a "psychobiography," an attempt to delve into the psychology of Diane Arbus, in other words. What drove her t
Oct 10, 2011 kim rated it 2 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2011
The psychology of Diane Arbus - interesting, but a little too academic for me. I wish it had been more biography and less analysis.

(Edited to add that there is not a single picture inside this book. Apparently her estate is not very share-friendly. While the author does describe the pictures he's referring to pretty well, it just does not compare to getting to see the actual picture.)
William Todd Schultz’s psycho-biography, “An Emergency in Slow Motion, The Inner Life of Diane Arbus”, is a psychological interpretation of Diane Arbus’ interior life and how it influenced her photographic work. Conversely, Schultz also looked at how Arbus’ work – her subject matter - may have affected her psyche. Most of the author’s resources came from previously published books and articles. He added a few personal interviews, one with Ms. Arbus’ psychologist, Helen Boigon, and the other with ...more
Leah Hess
I was highly impressed with this novel. In spite of never having heard of Diane Arbus before reading this novel, I was sucked into the history and knowledge Schultz divulged. I was fascinated to read of her art, relationships, and emotional trauma. Not only does Schultz investigate, factually, what would have caused Arbus to lead down the path of suicide, but he also analyzes how her actions may have been a result of her emotional dysfunction. I was concerned An Emergency in Slow Motion would re ...more
Leo Racicot
It is believed by many that God, The Divine One, acts as both Creator and Destroyer. If so, it follows that all living beings have a spark of this duality inside us and that the Spirit of God is so powerful in some, it burns with a radiant need to create something great while destroying itself in the process. Think of a volcano; at one and the same time, it is building upon itself
by diminishing itself. The great photographer, Diane Arbus, seems to have been one of these exalted beings, able to
Noelle Roberge
For someone who salivates at the thought of scholarly essays and research papers, this book is heaven. I am more than half-way through 'An Emergency in Slow Motion' and have been devouring it like a tasty dessert. This is a meaty book, meaning it is not a simple biography, it contains complex analysis and is a true work of academia.

I can't help but notice that there are a great many readers who wished the book contained pictures, but I find that Shultz does an incredible job describing the phot
Amber + Casey
I enjoyed the book because I am a fan of Diane Arbus, however those unfamiliar with her work or with Bosworth's biography on Diane Arbus will be absolutely bored. This book is a psychiatric point of view of Diane Arbus's life and work and how those two string together. The books main focus is on Arbus's suicide and her lifestyle leading up to her suicide. The one aspect of the book that I found cringe worthy is the last chapter. The last chapter focused on Sylvia Plath and to me it seemed to for ...more
Victoria Law
Does anyone else horrified that Arbus's therapist was willing to share her insight and session analyses with the author? I thought that client-patient info was privileged, even after death.

I'd never heard the term psychobiography before and wasn't sure what to expect. I think that this book is best read with a copy of Revelations (and possibly the Untitled monograph from Aperture) nearby so that the reader can cross-reference quotes and photographs.
Diane Arbus is a fascinating subject. I learned a lot about her from this book.

However, I was annoyed that the author seems to pathologize Arbus in some instances, but that may be the nature of psychobiography. Also, some conclusions that the author comes up with should be taken with a grain of salt. And the author focuses on single facts or statements of Arbus's and may exaggerate their importance.

The narrator's habit of putting on funny voices for different people is slightly annoying.

I reco
Still processing thoughts. Review coming soon...

(First Reads Win.)

So excited! Been in the mood for something uber artsy-fartsy. This should fit the bill nicely! Huzzah! :)
Aug 12, 2011 Cara marked it as to-read
Shelves: first-read
I won this book!
Liz V.
This was a Goodread's win, entered under the mistaken impression the book was about another photographer.

Schultz has written a psychobiography, a field used extensively for analysis of Nazi leaders but presumably developed during the ensuing years. It's not clear what restrictions on access to materials were placed on Schultz, although Arbus' estate evidently placed severe limitations on earlier writing projects.

My personal preference is for facts--names, dates, places--but the author has woven
Mark Field
Diane Arbus is an enigma, and an enigma that will never be fully explained. Here Schultz writes what he calls a psycho-biography, a psychological interpretation of Diane Arbus’ interior life and how it influenced her photographic work. Schultz also looked at how Arbus’ work may have affected her psyche. He uses published sources, interview material to develop and draw his theory together in an interesting read, he does get decidedly excited in certain aspects of detail, in others boringly academ ...more
Scott Gilbert
Schultz is a dogged analyst, fixated on certain facets of Arbus' life and personality, in order to explain her unique artistic choices and her unfortunate demise. However, he lacks the larger vision necessary to put this person into a realistic, vital context. He looks at Arbus through the wrong end of the lens, reducing her to fit certain psychological diagnoses, which is neither fair to Arbus or fruitful for the reader. Schultz also tends to repeat ideas and phrases throughout the book, seemin ...more
Michelle Gerard
Schultz is a bit repetitive in his writing. There's a lot of technical phrases that he unnecessarily repeats throughout the book. I kept wondering if I was accidentally re-reading passages.

He refers quite a bit to the other biography on Arbus, published articles, and other books. I hadn't read any of them so this information was all new to me. The interviews with her psychologist were interesting, but the psychologist's view on Arbus was obviously skewed. She makes it clear that she didn't care
Kyle Wendy Skultety (
Very depressing...comparing Arbus to Sylvia Plath. I think Arbus was a tortured genius, whose demons were made worse by medication and bad relationships. This book was full of a lot of psychobabble, not just a telling of her life. I also found the lack of photographs annoying; when the author described one, I had to go online to look it up to see exactly what he was describing. That was quite annoying.

If Arbus had lived in a different era, perhaps her suicide could have been prevented by better
Missing so much in its analysis, but what was mentioned was good.
I believe that I would have gotten more out of this had I researched Diane Arbus ahead of time. I knew very little about her, but plan to learn more now that I've read this. My only major gripes are that the author tended to be repetetive and that at the end, he pulled in Sylvia Plath (which would have only fit in a work comparing and contrasting the two artists - it came virtually out of nowhere).
Haines Borough Public Library
See it in the catalog here:

November 2011

I really enjoyed this "psychobiography" of Diane Arbus. It's now part of the library collection, so check it out!
See my full review here:

-Janine A.
Okay, I went into this knowing that it's a psychobiography (making assertions about her psychology based on her artwork) but it still seemed to fall flat. I also found it rather repetitive. I know it was likely a copyright issue, but it was also extremely difficult to follow the assertions based on photos, none of which were included in the book for the reader.
Laura Sloan
I won this book in a Goodreads giveaway. It's a psycho-biography, and since I like to learn about the inner workings of the mind I thought it sounded interesting. I ended up just skimming through a lot of the book, it just did not hold my interest. I probably would have enjoyed reading an article about Diane Arbus, but a whole book was too much for me.
Erin Tuzuner
If a picture is worth a thousand words, then it seems reasonable a photographer would be worth some academic consideration. It is difficult for an audience to separate "art" from its creator. Troubling work and a tortured creator, or just another person consumed by the quest for the location of the damage.
Rebecca Tolley-Stokes
Raises many questions as well as answering quite a few about Arbus. Fantastic insight into her oeuvre and artistic motivation as well as what precipitated her suicide. An intelligently developed narrative that will appeal to people who think about art, artists, creativity, and biography.
I need to think about this for awhile before writing the review--there were things I liked and things that made me want to smack the author upside the head. I need to clear all that up before writing a proper review. It is an interesting take but WAY too much supposition.
Leah Lucci
This book has lots of psychobabble conjecture about Arbus without having known her. Many of the sentences are convoluted and meaningless. I read some of it aloud to a coworker to confirm that I wasn't just incapable of understanding, and he agreed it was impenetrable.
What thought would be a really interesting book on one of my all time favourite photographers turned out to be somewhat tedious ordeal and I abandoned it after 60 pages. This is very disappointing for me. Maybe I'll make another attempt in the future.
Sep 01, 2012 Karen marked it as to-read
Let me add that I have a strange obsession with Diane Arbus' life & photography, so if anyone can get me interested in this book or another DA biography, please do!
Interesting person but the technical terms and constant interrupting analysis made the flow choppy and tedious. I would have enjoyed reading more of a strict biography.
Felt more like a pyschology thesis of an imaginary subject versus a thoughtful book with insight about the subject. It was ok but VERY repetitive.
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My Diane Arbus Book 1 7 Sep 10, 2011 09:23AM  
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