A picture is worth a thousand words” (cointed by Henrik Ibsen, 1913)

Embedded in Diane Arbus’s photographs lies a kaleidoscope of psychedelic beauty, unraveling the intricate layers of human vulnerability and untouched reality. Though captured decades ago, the monochrome filter bestows upon them a timeless aura, transcending the constraints of any era. In contemplating the future, one can’t help but ponder the enduring significance of a picture a decade hence. Arbus’s work, much like a piece of an everlasting puzzle, goes beyond mere momentary capture; it becomes a timeless snippet of a larger narrative. Through her lens, and that of other gifted photographers, the power of photography unfolds—a captivating spectacle that resonates long after it meets the beholder.

In the realm of true understanding, a captivating beauty unfolds when we embrace the realization that there’s no such thing as ‘normal people.’ Each of us bears a unique and intricate tapestry of characteristics—simple or complex; size, height, age, skin color, preferences, disabilities, and life circumstances. Unfortunately, life’s complexities often lead many astray from acknowledging that diverse journeys lead to common destinations.

In a world progressively diverting attention from global events, the once candid reality becomes obscured, edited through countless layers of bias, and coated in lies fostering ignorance. Common sense, it seems, is becoming less common in this over-saturated landscape.

Diane Arbus’s photographs, however, serve as a portal to an alternate reality. They’re an invitation to share tea in a stranger’s home, an encounter that would be missed by those who simply choose to pass by. These images are more than fleeting shadows; they possess an intimate quality that engages the viewer, creating a connection with the captured subject.

Arbus’s work is a profound wake-up call, a reminder that vulnerabilities contribute to our collective beauty, preciousness, and humanity. Many subjects in her photographs grapple with the consequences of ignorance and neglect, and these images serve as their voice. They bridge the gap, revealing the invisible string that binds us all in this grand odyssey called life.

Adding another layer to Diane Arbus’s narrative is the captivating photograph titled ‘Female Impersonators in Mirrors,’ snapped in 1958 within the vibrant ambiance of a drag club. The subjects, aware of the lens capturing their transformation into performers, maintain a natural fluidity and authentic expression, sharing not just a performance but a piece of their personal and sexual identity with the world.


In the poignant image ‘The Couple in Their Living Room Hugging,’ taken in 1971, love takes center stage as a dwarf woman and a tall man joyfully embrace. This portrayal transcends physical differences, showcasing that love knows no boundaries, grounded in the soul’s connection rather than physical appearances. While this photo represents a marginalized couple, its message resonates universally—reminding us that we all yearn for acceptance and deserve love for our true selves.

Beyond forging connections with marginalized subjects, Arbus fearlessly captures events society often chooses to ignore. For instance, her lens pierces through the veil at the ‘Horror Show’ in the wax museum at Coney Island, immortalizing unsettling scenes such as murder, child rape, and a sinister portrayal of royals—forcing us to confront the realities many prefer to keep hidden.

Diane Arbus’s lens delicately captures a slice of reality in the photograph titled ‘Two Boys Smoking in Central Park.’ The title itself sets the stage—a glimpse into the lives of two seemingly underage boys puffing cigarettes, no older than 14. One carries a lunch bag, the other a Coca Cola bottle, suggesting an unspoken bond likely to lead to shared moments. It’s evident that they share a history, the kind that fosters true friendship and mutual support.

In the frozen moment of the photograph, both boys are engrossed in their cigarettes, appearing carefree and oblivious to the photographer before them. Their nonchalant demeanor suggests a greater concern for their personal challenges than the presence of a camera. In the context of the era, cigarettes held wide acceptance, even though the subsequent decline has been gradual.

Yet, the photograph’s timeless quality raises poignant questions about the persistence of such issues. Despite the rocky descent in teen smoking rates, as noted by the Population Reference Bureau, old habits die hard. The National Institutes of Health corroborate this with a modern twist, reporting a surge in vaping among teens. Arbus’s 1963 photograph serves as a stark reminder that some issues remain as prevalent today as they were back then, capturing a nuanced snapshot of societal struggles through the lens of time.

In Diane Arbus’s evocative photograph ‘Sleeping Monkey in a Cage,’ taken in 1958 in NYC, the visceral impact is undeniably profound. The image, bereft of a description, conveys a poignant narrative without uttering a single word. A sorrowful, emaciated monkey lies behind metal bars, with the blurred top side of the image intensifying the poignant atmosphere, inviting diverse interpretations.

Without specifying a particular circumstance, this photograph encapsulates the multitude of harrowing scenarios this monkey may endure. Is it confined for circus entertainment, subjected to animal testing, held for clothing purposes, or ensnared in the animal trade? The unsettling questions it prompts challenge our moral compass, compelling us to confront the ethical implications of its existence.

The timeless quote, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ by Henrik Ibsen, resonates powerfully here, urging contemplation. This image serves as a catalyst for thought, eliminating the option of indifference. It transcends the plight of a single monkey, becoming a symbolic representation of countless species enduring similar injustices worldwide.

PETA’s statistics further emphasize the broader issue, revealing the staggering number of animals facing abuse and death each year in the U.S. The photograph becomes a visual manifesto, advocating for a reevaluation of our treatment of animals and igniting a collective call for compassion and change.

In essence, the choice of ‘psychedelic beauty’ in my opening resonates fittingly. The original definition of psychedelics, as a subclass of hallucinogenic drugs inducing non-ordinary states of consciousness, aligns with the mind-revealing and meditative impact of Diane Arbus’s photographs.

Her works serve as a powerful voice, resurrecting the silenced narratives of people and existing realities. They act as a visual catalyst, compelling viewers to peel back layers and recognize that profound truths lie beneath exteriors. To truly perceive the reality captured in Arbus’s lens, one must venture beyond the surface, breaking free from the constraints of often-limited perspectives that surround us.

Bibliography (with works that were paraphrased or cited)


“Diane Arbus.” MBAM. MBAM. Accessed December 4, 2022.


“Teens Using Vaping Devices in Record Numbers.” National Institutes of Health. U.S.

       Department of Health and Human Services, December 17, 2018.    https://www.nih.gov/news-events/news-releases/teens-using-vaping-devices-record-numbers.

“Animal Testing Facts and Statistics.” PETA. PETA, November 4, 2022


“Not All Americans Are Smoking Less.” PRB, February 1, 201.


“Psychedelics.” Psychedelics – Alcohol and Drug Foundation, August 16, 2022.


“A picture is worth a thousand words”, cointed by Henrik Ibsen, 1913.