All I want for Christmas is a Diane Arbus.


Holiday photographs for the rest of us.

Unlike millions of Americans this time of year, I (along with a large number of people) sink not into the warm glow of human kindness, but rather into the warm glow of a mild depression. Known commonly as holiday depression.

I have lived with this condition for longer than I can remember. Some years it’s minor, some years I don’t get off that easy. My family and friends have learned to accommodate my mood swings knowing that shortly after New Years all will be well again.

This year, I decided to comment on a few photos that best capture the zeitgeist of the season for me. Not the family holiday photos of Mom passed out drunk under the kitchen table or Dad wearing fake antlers and elf boots doing his best whiskey fueled reindeer impression.

The photographer that best captured the holidays, in my mind, is Diane Arbus. Who else really captures the holiday depression mindset?

If I ruled over the season, things would be quite a bit different. One example. Diane would have been my choice to direct “A Christmas Story”. Imagine that Christmas classic if she’d been given the chance to direct it. It would have been shot in festive black and white with a much more realistic alternate ending.

Unfortunately, we will never get to see her version.
We do, however, have a bit of a hint. We can get a rough idea from two of her classic photographs. Xmas Tree in a Living Room in Levttown, Long Island, 1963 and Santas at Santa Claus School, 1964.

In Xmas Tree in a Living Room in Levttown, Long Island, 1963, an empty living room has a 900-pound gorilla of an Xmas tree lurking in the corner. No family or friends are in the room, just an empty space waiting for the family drama to commence. Will Charles Dickens or Stephen King write it? I think I know.

In Santas at Santa Claus School, 1964, four soon-to-be Santas stand in a line (or a lineup) on the front lawn of a Santa school. First day at the academy? A graduation photo? A fire drill? Soon these newly certified Santas will be off to the local mall. Screaming, frightened children are impatiently waiting for their turn to tell Santa what loot they want under their tree.

I’m sending an enthusiastic ho ho ho and a 16-ounce, grog-filled thanks to Diane Arbus for presenting a divergent, more lugubrious take on the holiday spirit.

I’d like to hear if you have a suggestion for an iconic holiday photo, please email me. I’ll add it to this list.

Photo above left: Santas at Santa Claus School, 1964
Photographs copyright © The Estate of Diane Arbus

Xmas Tree in a Living Room in Levittown, Log Island, 1963

Santas at Santa Claus School, 1964