“An Emergency in Slow Motion: The Inner Life of Diane Arbus” (Bloomsbury, 2011)

Brain Pickings #5 Book of 2011:  Biography/Memoir HERE
Named “hot” title in September, 2011 Vanity Fair
Review in The Economist HERE
Story in Daily Beast HERE
Review at NPR HERE
Review in The Telegraph HERE
Review in Brooklyn Rail HERE
Review at Dusty Venetian HERE
(Plus many, many more reviews below)

“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 at the age of 48 in 1971, the presumed chaos and darkness of her own inner life became, for many viewers, inextricable from her work.

In the spirit of Janet Malcolm’s classic examination of Sylvia Plath, The Silent Woman, William Todd Schultz’s An Emergency in Slow Motion reveals the creative and personal struggles of Diane Arbus. Schultz veers from traditional biography to interpret Arbus’s life through the prism of four central mysteries: her outcast affinity, her sexuality, the secrets she kept and shared, and her suicide. He seeks not to diagnose Arbus, but to discern some of the private motives behind her public works and acts. In this approach, Schultz not only goes deeper into her life than any previous writer, but provides a template with which to think about the creative life in general.

Schultz’s careful analysis is informed, in part, by the recent release of some of Arbus’s writing and work by her estate, as well as interviews with Arbus’s psychotherapist. An Emergency in Slow Motion combines new revelations and breathtaking insights into a must-read psychobiography about a monumental artist—the first new look at Arbus in 25 years.”

INITIAL ADVANCE PRAISE (as it comes in):

“William Todd Schultz has done the impossible; he’s pulled Diane Arbus out from under the black shroud of the photographer’s cape and into the light.  An Emergency in Slow Motion is the book Arbus’s legions of admirers have long waited for: a vivisection of her psyche that allows us—the voyeurs she made of us—to understand her stark, accusatory vision.”  (Kathryn Harrison, author of The Kiss)

“This portrait of the art and psyche of Diane Arbus is exciting and wrenching and full of revelations. And it is a model for the promise of William Todd Schultz’s larger project to infuse psychobiography with curiosity, humility, and intelligence. Readers may be left, as I was, considering the eternal, essential, impossible problem: how to look at darkness.” (Joshua Wolf Shenk, author of Lincoln’s Melancholy)

“Schultz confesses that his subject, revered and controversial photographer Diane Arbus, remains a mystery after nearly seven years of inquiry. His struggle to understand Arbus and her indelible portraits of “freaks” makes for a strikingly candid, indefatigably inquisitive, and poignantly unsettling psychobiography, a meticulous yet passionate attempt to decode her inner life. Born in 1923 to wealth and misery in a New York household of silence and secrets, including a sexual relationship between Diane and her brother, the future poet laureate Howard Nemerov, Diane married photographer Allan Arbus very young. The marriage didn’t last, and Schultz offers no insights into what sort of mother Arbus was to their two now accomplished daughters. Instead, he focuses on Arbus’ signature fascination with “weirdos and grotesques,” reveals her compulsive and risky sexual adventures, and argues that sex was her true artistic obsession, right up to her 1971 suicide. Exceptional prose, illuminating psychological theory, and the visceral memories of those who knew her add up to a haunting portrait of Arbus as a tenacious and quixotic artist whose outré photographs blaze on in all their strange romance, protest, and longing.” (Donna Seaman, Booklist)

“A major reexamination of the legendary lens woman’s troubled life. Arbus, who was a fan of those on the fringes of the LGBT community, put her lens on freaks, queers, and nudists, often laying bare her own psyche in the process. In Emergency, Schultz looks at that psyche and centers Arbus’s sexuality at the intersection of her art and life.”  (The Advocate)

“Sensitive but deeply provocative” (Vogue)

"A biography that wisely recognizes the ultimate mystery of every life."  (Kirkus Reviews)

“An ambitious ‘psychobiography’… Schultz (editor of the Handbook of Psychobiography) makes good use of biographical material released by the Arbus estate since Patricia Bosworth’s 1984 book–as well as interviews with Arbus’s psychotherapist–to shed new light on the photographer’s artistic aims, particularly her choice of subject matter: transvestites, circus performers, “freaks.”  His sensitivity to Arbus’s inner life and the links between mental illness and creativity make this a provocative … addition to the literature on Arbus.”  (Publisher’s Weekly)

“In this insightful and moving analysis of the life (and suicide) of Diane Arbus, Todd Schultz has written a short psychological symphony.  He begins with a few simple themes – about secrets and sex, about photographing freaks, about being a freak and photographing the self.  Calling upon contemporary psychological research, extraordinary empathy, and a deep understanding of how madness and creativity often intersect, Schultz introduces surprising variations on these themes, as the music builds in complexity, texture, and beauty, pulling the reader forward, inexorably, to the dramatic conclusion.  The audience pauses for a moment at the very end, to savor the spine-tingling sensation.  And then: exuberant applause.  Bravo!”  (Dan P. McAdams, author of George W. Bush and the Redemptive Dream:  A Psychological Portrait)

11 thoughts on ““An Emergency in Slow Motion: The Inner Life of Diane Arbus” (Bloomsbury, 2011)

    1. I would like to inquire if Mr. Schultz is interested in a Phyco-biography of Elizabeth Hartman. Elizabeth, at 22 years of age won a Golden Globe award and was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Actress for her 1965 sensitive and moving portrayal of the blind Selina D’arcy,, befirended by a stranger in the park, played by Sidney Poitier. Elizabeth went on to some more successful films , like “The Goup,” The Beguied and “You’re a Big Boy Boy” Now,” This fragile artist sufferred from acute depression all her life – but when she was acting she had this uncanny ability to become the character. In the seventies her career went into a sharp decline and in 1987 she leapt from her fifth story studio window in Pittsburgh,Pa, where I currently live. She was originally from Youngstown, Ohio snd her sister lives in Pittsburgh so she was trying to get well by getting therapy and working at an Art Museum. I have close access to Janet Shoup, Elizabeth Hartman’s sister, possibly her classmates and drama teachers. There’s a possibility that the family may authorize release of her phychological notes to do an ambitious and accurate portrayal of her tragic life. I don;t see it as an exploitation book but rather a helpful portrayal of the ravages of depression and what it is required within ourselves to combat it. I, for one have suffered from acute depression all my life. Although I don’t condone Elizabeth’s horrifying end – somehow I understand the inner forces which drove her to this unspeakable end. You can read more about Elizabeth Hartman’s life with her photo’s online. Please respond if this study motivates you. Elizabeth Hartman was on 43 years old when she died. One time she was quoted as saying, “I can’t waite until I’m forty-five when all the real juicy parts could come my way,” I think the study will help thousands of people to try to make an effort to combat the deamons which haunted Elizabeth Hartman.

      Peter Leben 412/980-2780 peterleben@rocketmail.com

  1. Pingback: a wee bit…: non.

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