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bibliophiles

Needs a book to pull her in

Amy Touchette

The photographer Amy Arbus has published five books, and her work has appeared in countless periodicals, including The Village Voice, for which she did her long running fashion feature, “On The Street.” Each summer the New York City photographer migrates north to teach at Provincetown’s Fine Arts Center. From July 20-Aug. 8 The Schoolhouse Gallery will exhibit a series in which she confronts the death of her photographer mother, Diane Arbus, that she made for a class taught by Richard Avedon in 1992. 

BOOKS: What books did you bring with you to Provincetown?

ARBUS: My sister Doon [Arbus] just finished her first novel, a novella actually. It’s called “The Caretaker.” It’s not published. It’s pretty amazing. She’s written many things. She worked with Avedon on “The Sixties.” I also brought “Letters to a Young Artist” edited by Peter Nesbett, Sarah Andress, and Shelly Bancroft. I always recommend that my students read “Art and Fear” by David Bayles and Ted Orland because it’s about how fear holds you back as an artist, and it gives you tricks to get yourself over your fears. I was hoping this book would do the same for me.

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BOOKS: Are there photo books you recommend to your students?

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ARBUS: My mother’s book “Revelations” is totally amazing. It was based a little bit on Avedon’s “Evidence.” I love August Sander. I own “Face of Our Time” but wish I had “People of the 20th Century.” He is one of my biggest inspirations. Everyone has to look at Gregory Crewdson’s books too, especially “Dream of Life.”

BOOKS: Was your mom a reader?

ARBUS: When my dad [the actor Allan Arbus] met my mom, the first thing she said to him was, “I’m very well read.” I can’t claim that. I had an experience in public school that I never recovered from. I had to read a book a week. I was in fifth grade. I picked the skinniest book I could find, and most of them were really boring. It started an animosity with reading. My friends read to escape the world. And I envy that. I feel lonely when I read unless I’m completely sucked in. If I’m sucked in I’m totally fine. 

BOOKS: What are some books that have sucked you in?

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ARBUS: I remember loving Paul Auster’s novel “Invisible,” then I never found [another of his] I could read again. I adored “The Bridge of San Luis Rey” by Thornton Wilder. That’s gorgeous. He won the Pulitzer Prize for the novel and then turned it into a play. The premise is a bridge falls, and five people are killed. A witness takes on the mission to find out what they had in common. I fell in love with A.M. Homes’s “In a Country of Mothers.” The experience of reading it was so bizarre because there were references that related directly to my life. The premise is a woman gives up her child at birth, and she later becomes a shrink. She has an office exactly where my shrink was, just north of Houston Street. The shrink has a child and buys her a toy called a Zola. Zola was invented by a friend of mine. 

BOOKS: Do you own any books with special significance to you?

ARBUS: I have an amazing library. I have some of my mom’s books. Some books I inherited from [the photographer and artist] Marvin Israel. Then I have my own library that I have collected. The Arbus-Avedon shelf, that’s the biggest shelf.

BOOKS: What kind of books did your mother read?

ARBUS: She was really intellectual. She read Borges. I think she read for ideas. I loved to watch TV, and she said, “Do you get your ideas from television?” And my sister said, “I hope not!”

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BOOKS: Have you read either of the two biographies about your mom?

‘I feel lonely when I read unless I’m completely sucked in.’

ARBUS: I never read those because I lost her when I was 17. I don’t want somebody else’s fiction-filled, to be kind, book to become my memory of her. From what I understand neither is very good in terms of accuracy. They are both very sensationalist. That makes me burn madness.

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