Diane Arbus: Family Albums 

Diane Arbus: Family Albums
Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park, through April 24

Pros: *Arbus is far more relevant to the contemporary state of photography than, say, Edward Weston, whom the museum recently showed. Photographers who are drawn to the grotesque and offbeat, such as Roger Ballen, Nan Goldin, and Rineke Dijkstra, all owe debts to Arbus' portraits of the 1960s and early '70s.

*Family Albums contains many terrific photographs by this artist, whose estate closely guards the visibility of her work. Several classic Arbus shots are included, such as Child With Toy Grenade in Central Park and The King and Queen of a Senior Citizen's Dance, as well as some sharp lesser known work from her series of a camp for overweight girls and a portrait of Lee Harvey Oswald's mother.

*In addition to the finished prints, the exhibition also includes the magazines from which the photographs were originally run, contact sheets that reveal Arbus' shooting process, and machine prints that the artist used to proof her work. This ephemera underscores the fact that Arbus was not a very good photographer from any technical standpoint, and that whoever printed her work ought to have won the "Pulling-Something-From-Nothing" award, as her contact sheets reveal incredibly poorly-exposed negatives.

Cons: *Family Albums is grouped into unhelpful, family-themed categories, such as "Couples" and "Babies." This occasionally works and casts Arbus' work in a fresh light, but to include a portrait of Norman Mailer under the "Fathers" heading is to miss the point entirely.

*In an attempt to expand Arbus' notoriously small body of work that she left behind before her 1971 suicide, the exhibition organizers have included several commissions that have rarely been seen before. These are of families who paid Arbus to come into their homes and shoot them in action, and the results are largely dreadful, with only a few exceptions.

Verdict: B An interesting but flawed look at a fairly relevant, dead photographer is more than we've come to expect from our local art museum.

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