"If I were just curious, it would be very hard to say to someone, "I want to come to your house and have you talk to me and tell me the story of your life." I mean people are going to say, "You're crazy." Plus they're going to keep mighty guarded. But the camera is a kind of license. A lot of people, they want to be paid that much attention and that's a reasonable kind of attention to be paid."
–Diane Arbus, RISD Lectures, 1970
"Everybody has that thing where they need to look one way but they come out looking another way and that's what people observe. You see someone on the street and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw. It's just extraordinary that we should have been given these peculiarities. And, not content with what we were given, we create a whole other set. Our whole guise is like giving a sign to the world to think of us in a certain way but there's a point between what you want people to know about you and what you can't help people knowing about you. And that has to do with what I've always called the gap between intention and effect…"
–Diane Arbus, RISD Lectures, 1970
You met her while hunting in Washington Square Park;
A non-descript woman with boyishly cropped dark hair and a camera.
Definitely not your taste.
Still, you found yourself talking to her.
Leaning close to catch her soft inflections,
At twilight, when the night people and the day people trade places.
Your lover would not have been pleased.
However, she was not there-
Abandoning you to find amusement where you may.
And this woman.
She sounded like a prophetess, every word full of unsaid meaning.
Without intending to, you found yourself telling her about yourself.
But only the parts that wouldn't alarm.
When she asked you in the neon New York twilight,"May I take your picture?"
You said yes.
So she did
As you leaned forward from a bench,
Eyebrow slightly quirked, a blur of people moving behind you,
In black and white.
She was gone before you could kill her.
Later you saw her
In the company of a dwarf.
Or a giant.
Then a transvestite, some fat peroxided creature with too much eyeliner.
Now she was beside you, "May I take your picture?"
You said yes; she took your picture, sitting looking startled on the lip of a dry fountain.
She disappeared before you could kill her.
You met her again when summer heat ripples from the pavement long past sundown.
She spoke of an upcoming show of her pictures.
"Would you care to see what I've done so far?"
Curious, you let her lead you through the streets to her studio apartment.
She invited you in; it stank of chemicals and cigarettes, and overflowed with images.
Pinned to an old dressing screen, she showed you yourself;
It was startling.
You had forgotten what you looked like.
Though you were dressed, you looked naked, vulnerable.
It made you angry.
Just a little.
Was this how people really saw you?
This wouldn't do.
But you didn't kill her, this strange woman with her dark, cropped hair and camera.
Instead, you let her share coffee and cigarettes with you,
You sitting there on her floor beside her, leafing through her photographs:
Dwarves, transvestites, the retarded and the insane –
All the people you were once told never to look at.
Pinned down for all time in black and white.
You were mingled in among them.
So you dozed off without killing her.
When you awoke, she was taking your picture as you slept upon her bare wooden floor,
Surrounded by black and white fallen leaves.
She smiled at you; the two of you talked as the camera spoke.
You mentioned your lover. You mentioned how you missed her-
The clicking of the shutter not even registering, the flash going off like distant lightning.
She nodded, half smiling at you, until you dozed off again.
Without killing her.
lover returned; existence resumed its usual frenetic pace of blood,
sex and death.
The strange woman disappeared along with her camera, into the background.
Later there was a reception in honor of her work at the MOMA.
You crashed it – staring at the images of the creatures that you and your lover eclipsed.
It was a painful shock:
None of the pictures she took of you were on the wall.
You should have killed her.
Years passed with more black and white leaves, winter, summer, day and night.
Your lover left you disconsolate once more in Washington Park Square.
So you went looking for this strange woman with her dark cropped hair and her camera.
Her studio apartment housed a stranger.
You followed the memory of her scent to a room with razorblades, pills, and cameras around a bed where she lay dying.
She saw your face in the evening window, and invited you in as cameras clicked and whirred about her.
Smiling, she beckoed you close in a blood and barbiturate haze.
In her soft prophetess' voice she whispered into your ear as she handed you a sealed envelope,
"I know what you are,
I can't see you in the mirror of my camera,
That's why I never used my pictures of you in my books and in my exhibits.
It would be wrong to show something like you so vulnerable, so alone."
Then she kissed you on the mouth, for the first and last time.
Without feeding, you held her hand, the cameras clicking and whirring impersonally around you.
Years later you opened the envelope with its dried bloodstain handprints.
Inside were pictures of you, quirked eyebrow and narrow cheeks, on a park bench or on the lip of a dry fountain at twilight.
The rest were of you asleep, relaxed so that your other face showed, in her little studio apartment, surrounded by images of dwarfs, giants, the insane, and the retarded.
These pictures made you angry.
And a little sad.
They were honest.
Which was why you never killed her.
Author's Note: Diane Arbus (1923-1971) was a controversial street photographer who committed suicide for reasons never clearly stated. According to legend, she recorded her own death and that there are rolls of film that are undeveloped/unreleased somewhere in her family's collection. So, what if on some of those rolls of film, she had company? Her hunting grounds for subject matter would have matched Spike and Drusilla's: the out of the way, the hang-outs of the fringe, trannie balls, bad neighborhood and public parks. The images Arbus produced were unsettling in a quiet sort of way, just like their producer. What if they met? What kind of pictures would she have taken?