Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, Diane Arbus, gelatin silver print, 1966.

Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, Diane Arbus, gelatin silver print, 1966.

Diane Arbus (March 14, 1923 – July 26, 1971), an American Photographer, was best known for her square black-and-white photographs of “deviant and marginal people or of people whose normality seems ugly or surreal.”  She began her career as a fashion photographer for her father in New York.  After WWII she and her husband began a commercial photography studio.  She quit the commercial photography business to begin doing some magazine assignment work; this gave her an opportunity to tour the country.  She was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1963 for a project on “American rites, manners, and customs”; in 1966 the Fellowship was renewed.  She committed suicide in 1971.  Arbus’s work has been considered controversial and her estate has been criticized for denying permission for exhibition or reproduction of her photographs.

I found the work of Diane Arbus to be quite intriguing.  Most of her photos were of circus performers (freaks), nudists, and transvestites; far more risqué than the seemingly tame nature of Identical Twins, Roselle NJ.  But, when you consider that the ghostly twins from Stanley Kubrick’s The Shinning are in an identical pose you can see how powerful the image is.  I especially appreciate how Arbus is credited with taking the time to get to know everyone she photographed and to get their permission to take the shot.  Even going so far as tracking down, catching up with, and re-shooting subjects years later.  Two quotes I found to be amusing were: “We thought it was the worst likeness of the twins we'd ever seen.”  Bob Wade (father of the twins), and “Giving a camera to Diane Arbus is like putting a live grenade in the hands of a child.” Norman Mailer.

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