Kelley groups together surprisingly similar works by different artists, using such associational connections as mirrors, television sets, transvestism and exaggerated gender signals, “candid” photos at social events, living spaces, displays of possessions, nudity, unwilling subjects and so on. The result, abetted by the uniformity of the scale and presentation of the black-and-white photos, is an unusually coherent group show that flows with the compelling nonlinear narrative of experimental found-film makers like Bruce Conner or Arthur Lipsett. Additionally, it serves as a crash course in how to look at these kinds of photographs, and as such might be a better place to start than the Revelations exhibit itself.
Diane Arbus’ legacy is immense and far more art-historically significant than her popular image suggests. Most of the conceptual concerns addressed in the works in “The Last Picture Show” can be found in a more formally generous and humanistic package in her work, and many of those issues are unraveled over the course of “Street Credibility.” Ultimately, though, the factor that causes all these concurrent L.A. exhibitions to refer back to Arbus’ Revelations, whether they want to or not, is the visionary intensity and imagination manifested in her work and writings. Not only did Arbus stretch the parameters of acceptable subject matter in photography, she changed how other photographers thought about their art, and how all of us look at the world — and particularly at one another. Even if she couldn’t single-handedly overcome the postwar alienation of America, she was able to infect whole generations with the germ of her vision. It’s a kind of pathology we could use more of.