Pictures I Like: Diane Arbus, “Xmas Tree In A Living Room In Levittown, Long Island, 1963″

arbus

My Story:

“Here it is, the most beautiful tree on the lot. Cost me $18, but what the hell it goes to a good cause. At least I think it does. Depends on what the firemen do with it. Probably buy booze for themselves. So what! I got the tree, the best tree. Just have to get this damned stand screwed on, Fill the thing with water later so the tree won’t dry out so fast and shed needles all over the rug. Love that evergreen smell! Okay, upsy-daisy. Jesus, this thing’s heavy. Move the stand over. Try again. Stand up goddamit! Jesus, it’s too tall! Oh hell it’s falling over. Christ! My back! Okay, okay. It’s still a beautiful tree, nice shape, I’ll just trim a little off the top. Get the fucking saw. Where did I leave it? Out in the shed. There it is, under the lawnmower. Okay, back inside. God, my back! Okay, saw off a little. Now heave the damn thing… Still too tall goddamit! Okay, okay. Saw off a little more. And up… Just fits! Ha! Got you you bastard! Okay, no angel on top this year but put the damn presents around and who gives a shit. My back! Every step is agony! I need a drink a really really stiff drink. The most beautiful drink in the house.”

The Facts:

Diane Arbus got a Guggenheim Fellowship to work on a project called “American Rites, Manners and Customs” that she completed in 1963. This photograph was made during the end of that project as she was perfecting her head-on square format style. Arbus’ work is often called strange or freakish but it is really just ordinary life in photographs — trees like this one are the subjects of millions of family snapshots — the problem is that people don’t recognize just how strange the ordinary actually is.

“…if you scrutinize reality closely enough, if in some way you really, really get to it, it becomes fantastic. You know it really is fantastic that we look like this and you sometimes see that very clearly in a photograph. Something is ironic in the world and it has to do with the fact that what you intend never comes out like you intend it.”
(Diane Arbus quoted in the 1972 Aperture monograph Diane Arbus published shortly after her death. New edition which may or may not include this quote: Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph: Fortieth-Anniversary Edition)

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