Diane Arbus: In the Beginning
by Jeff L. Rosenheim
The Met. 256 pages, $50.
Nan Goldin: The Ballad of Sexual Dependency
Aperture. 148 pages, $35.
Outsiders: American Photography and Film, 1950s–1980s
Edited by Sophie Hackett and Jim Shedden
Skira Rizzoli. 180 pages, $29.95
At a New York flea market, Robert Swope unearthed 400 snapshots and three neatly preserved photo albums of great interest. He wrote in Casa Susanna, a book he co-edited with Michael Hurst: “I felt electrified. I had never seen anything like this that had not been clearly orchestrated as a party or a joke. … I seriously began tearing through the box, determined to find every single one of these photographs.” What he found were snapshots from Casa Susanna, a Catskill Mountain retreat for cross-dressers, a hideaway in Hunter, New York, in a rundown bungalow colony. Tito Valenti and his wife Marie operated Chevalier d’Eon from 1955 to ’63 and Casa Susanna from ’64 to ’69. (They also gave cross-dressing soirées in their New York City apartment.) Harvey Fierstein’s 2014 Broadway play Casa Valentina is about the Catskills retreat.
The Art Gallery of Ontario’s Outsiders exhibition included a collection of snapshots from Casa Susanna that were clearly taken by the participants themselves—an example of visually striking and intimate images that were made without artistic intention, showing their subjects engaged in everyday activities around the house. However, the snapshots are striking in what they reveal about an unseen outpost of American life.