Title

Looking at Difference: Laura Swanson’s Anti-Self-Portraits, Diane Arbus’s Portraits, and the Viewer’s Gaze

Document Type

Journal Article

Role

Author

Journal Title

Journal of Literary and Cultural Disability Studies

Volume

9

Issue

3

First Page

277

Last Page

294

Publication Date

Fall 2015

Abstract

The article argues that disability is a resource for revitalizing the practice of portraiture. Drawing on Tobin Siebers’s work on disability aesthetics and Rosemarie Garland-Thomson’s work on staring, the article explores how disability inflects and redefines the conventions of portraiture and how contemporary portraiture revises the photographic history of disability, a history rooted in the medicalization or enfreakment of bodily difference. After briefly surveying the history of photographic representations of variant bodies, consideration is given to the work of Diane Arbus, whose portraits continue to shape the representation of disability, and then to the work of contemporary photographer Laura Swanson, who positions her work in relation to that of Arbus. Swanson reimagines the portrait by resisting the viewer’s gaze and confronting viewers with their expectations of portraiture, their histories of looking, and their encounters with disability and difference.