Arbus in the Park

This past Friday afternoon, as part of New York Writers Coalition Day, I led a writing workshop at Strawberry Fields in Central Park, during which I used a prompt that involved the photography of the late, great American photographer Diane Arbus. Arbus, who is well known for her intimate portraits of so-called freaks (midgets, circus acts, bodybuilders, men fully covered in tattoos, etc.), also took many amazing portraits of so-called average New Yorkers in some of the city’s great parks, including Central and Washington Square. It was these images I used for the prompt.

Since I don’t own a book of Arbus’s photography (although I should and will purchase one soon) I searched the web for some of Arbus’s park photos by googling “Diane Arbus park” and clicking “images.” Then I copied and pasted the images into a Word document, resized each to about four-by-four inches, and printed them out.

In total, I printed out about twenty-five images, including “Child with a Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park,” “Young Couple on a Bench in Washington Square Park,” “Two Boys Smoking in Central Park,” “Girl with a Cigar in Washington Square Park,” “Man and a Boy on a Bench in Central Park,” and “Two Young Men on a Bench in Washington Square Park.”

During the workshop, I laid out the photographs on the grass (the workshop was held on a thick patch of green underneath two massive trees), inviting participants to choose an image that struck them and then to write a piece of prose or poetry about it, perhaps writing from the point of view of one of the people in the photographs or simply writing about what the photograph triggers in their imagination or memory.

Of course, if you’d like to use this prompt on your own, you can bypass all the copying and pasting and resizing and printing out and simply google “Diane Arbus park” to find an image that strikes you and to use as inspiration to write.