Subject & Picture

“A picture is a secret about a secret, the more it tells you the less you know.”
― Diane Arbus

( The boy in this photograph, Colin Wood, claims that Arbus caught him at a moment of exasperation in this iconic shot. At the time that this photograph was taken, the subject’s famous tennis playing father, Sidney Wood, and his mother were going through a divorce – so their son felt lonely and was experiencing “a sense of being abandoned”.

Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, NYC, 1962.

The scrawny child holds himself in a tense manner; his right hand clutching a toy hand grenade and his left clenched into a claw like position. This, combined with the disheveled clothes and manic expression on his young face communicates the frustration the boy held and, in his own words, the “want to connect” without knowing how.)

“Love involves a peculiar unfathomable combination of understanding and misunderstanding”
― Diane Arbus

(Diane Arbus’ interest in gender and identity is clear in this intimate portrait of a young man in drag in the stages of getting ready. The ambiguity of the image lies in the contrast between feminine and masculine features – perfectly manicured fingernails on large, manly hands, overly plucked eyebrows arched on a rugged pock-marked face and a strong jawline evident under all of the make-up.

A Young Man in Curlers at Home on West 20th Street, NYC, 1966.

The subject appears vulnerable in the intimate setting Arbus has photographed him in – he is not fully transformed and seems in a type of limbo between who he is and who he wants to be. The defiant look in his eye, however, tells of a determination and self-acceptance in a time where homophobia was rife and there was little to no acceptance of queer people. This image generated shock and outrage amongst the general public at the time, with one viewer going as far as to spit on it as it hung in the Museum of Modern Art in 1967.

“For me, the subject of the picture is always more important than the picture.”
― Diane arbus

This portrait of 7-year-old twin sisters Cathleen and Colleen Wade is probably Diane Arbus’ most recognisable work. The image, which was taken at a Christmas party for twins and triplets in New Jersey, shows the girls standing uniformly side by side – their height, matching dresses and haircuts characterising them as twins.

Identical twins, Roselle, NJ, 1967.

The differing facial expressions of the pair, however, show the strong sense of individuality from each girl and begs the question of whether or not the twins are actually identical, which might be why their parents have claimed that this image is the worst likeness of their daughters that they’ve ever seen. This image gained more notoriety upon the release of cult horror film “The Shining”, when pop-culture fanatics began comparing the girls in the 1967 portrait to the spooky twins featured in Stanley Kubrick’s film.

Diane Arbus is best known for bringing to light those living on the edge of society during an era less accepting than the one we find ourselves in today.

Her exploration of issues surrounding gender and her recording of those labeled “freaks” among the general consensus marked her as controversial during her career, her raw and unusual imagery portraying a very different idea of the New York City displayed to us in the work of other documentarians of the time. 

To celebrate her upcoming show at the Met Breuer in New York here’s a selection of her most iconic images.

Credits :

Love all.

(c) ram H singhal


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