Compared with that, Arbus’s pursuit of street photography might appear to be decorous. But she regarded taking her camera into otherwise off-limit settings as “very perverse” and “a sort of naughty thing to do.” Although photography would one day reach galleries and universities, in 1956, when she ended a fashion-photography partnership with her husband to take pictures on her own, photojournalism was not a genteel profession — especially for a woman like Arbus, who was raised on Park Avenue and Central Park West, a universe away from the Carmels’ cramped apartment in the West Bronx. Arbus took pictures of Carmel at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus in spring 1960, and soon afterward photographed him with his parents in the apartment they shared. Yet a decade elapsed before she made “A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y. 1970,”the centerpiece of a small exhibition at the Jewish Museum through Aug. 3, and the reason Carmel is most remembered today. Arbus’s friendship with Carmel was one of many such relationships she maintained throughout her life. Even more longstanding than her tie to the “Jewish giant” was one to the “Mexican dwarf,” Lauro Morales, whom she photographed at the circus in 1957 and many times afterward, until she arrived at “Mexican dwarf in his hotel room, N.Y.C. 1970,” the picture that is his claim on immortality.Despite her posthumous reputation, Arbus did not devote most of her film to portraits of professional freaks. And she wasn’t obsessed with the tragic; her sensibility would be better characterized as blackly comic, and her most characteristic response to things was a girlish giggle. Still, the entertainers at the circus sideshows and at Hubert’s, a dime museum in Times Square, were generally the subjects with whom she kept up the longest contact. She said she adored freaks, with the clarification, “I don’t mean like they’re my best friends.” She acknowledged to a class in 1971 that “for me there’s often a big distance between who I want to be with and who I want to take a picture of.”Continue reading the main storyFrom the time she met Carmel, she “always thought he was on the point of dying, and there was something very touching about it.” Yet he could be irritating, too, “the kind of class clown that everybody had in high school.” One of his tricks was to compose a poem on demand. “You just give him a word or a sentence or several things you want in the poem, and he’ll just do it right away,” she explained in that 1971 class. “But it’s a kind of inane rhyme sort of thing.” She allowed that he was “very greedy for money” (at times he demanded payment to be photographed) and “a little bit sophomoric.” On the other hand, she admired how he refrained from complaining about his condition.Continue reading the main storyContinue reading the main storyAdvertisement Most interesting of all to Arbus was his family predicament. Eddie was born in what became Israel. The Carmels, who were Orthodox Jews, moved to the Bronx when Eddie was a small child so that his mother, Miriam, could care for an ill relative. His father, Yitzhak, an insurance salesman, was especially eager to return to Israel, but once Eddie’s acromegaly developed, that prospect receded. Eddie didn’t share his parent’s religious belief or their attraction to Israel, and with his increasing infirmities, he could not be left on his own. So father and son were trapped. They “really can’t endure each other,” Arbus said. She thought the mother was “very sweet, and she’s right in between them, because she makes peace with both of them.” Arbus suspected she harbored “a kind of sneaking admiration” for her son. The family dynamic is evident in Arbus’s photograph. Unkempt and unshaven, Eddie, who by this time is so crippled that he can’t stand up without a cane, bends in the direction of his parents. Yitzhak glares at him coldly. Miriam gazes up at him in wonder. Even though he is in his own living room, Yitzhak is dressed in a suit and tie, with his hands tucked in his jacket pockets. Miriam wears a soiled housedress. The precision of these details is illuminating, especially since Eddie, partly because of carnival blarney but also, it would seem, because of his personality, embellished and distorted the facts: He said, among other things, that at 6 years old, he already stood six feet tall; that he was descended from Europe’s tallest rabbi; and that going back even further in his lineage (his religious father must have loved this) there towered Goliath, the Philistine giant. Yet the photograph transcends the mundane particulars of the Carmels’ unhappy home life. In the image, the curtains are drawn shut, the lampshades are protected with cellophane, and the upholstery is shielded with fabric covers. A picture of Jerusalem hangs on the wall. Every precaution has been taken to defend against possible danger, and yet, as in a fairy tale, a monster has materialized in the room. “If you scrutinize reality closely enough,” Arbus once said, “or if in some way you really, really get to it, it seems to me like it’s fantastic.” A year after taking the photograph, at the age of 48, Arbus committed suicide. And a year after that, almost to the day, Carmel died at 36. (His age was one of the facts he massaged; he had subtracted five years from it, so that Arbus, among others, thought he was younger.) Appearing on a talk show hosted by Richard Lamparski after Arbus’s death, Carmel asked to be given a subject for one of his spontaneous poems. Lamparski told him, “Diane Arbus.” Carmel grimaced for a moment and then said: A long time ago I had a real strange pal, A truly strange and wonderful gal. In a world that’s growing quickly and seems to be in some kind of weird stir, Here was a marvelous gal, a photographer. Who would suddenly open up her little eyes and mutter, And quickly snap her camera shutter. Diane Arbus is now not with us anymore, And it’s a tragedy that suddenly we have faced a closing door. Of a wonderful gal, a talented one, Affectionately known as a lovely dear old son of a gun. Diane Arbus. Almost certainly, had she heard the poem, it would have made her giggle.