Peculiarly Ordinary Christmas



Xmas tree in a living room in Levittown, Long Island 1963
Copyright © The Estate of Diane Arbus

It is often not recognized how strange ordinary things truly are. Diane Arbus highlighted human experience through her photography of ordinary life. She photographed things that she believed, “nobody would see unless [she] photographed them.” (  Levittown, where this photograph was taken, was the first suburb of America established by William Levitt, a Jew. Following World War II, veterans settled down in uniform houses for small costs. This is a snapshot of one of the many mass produced homes with its touch of Christmas. Taken by a Jew, this shows the irony of this specific shot is the copious amount of presents at the bottom of their tree. In a simple, barely furnished home there is still plenty of presents waiting to be opened on Christmas morning. It emphasizes and criticizes the consuming society centered around Christmas.  In such a simple home, presents were more important than furniture. Arbus frequently took pictures of marginalized individuals including dwarfs, transgender, circus people. Growing up in the time of World War II as a Jew, she understands the emotions that come along with being alienated and thought of as a freak. Unlike many of her other photographs, this particular subject was a common occurrence yet to Arbus, quite foreign. This photo also has the power of popular culture, a driving force of the 1960s, through the presence of the television and magazine rack by its’ side. In addition, when you look closely at the image you see there is a plastic covering on the lamp; the home owners’ are desperate to keep the clean, crisp, new look of their home decor. Although there is an opulence of gifts for Christmas morning, the family is lower middle class, fighting to show themselves through their home as more.