Sunday, 14 June 2009


Most exhibitions of 1960’s photographs nowadays focus on the pop stars, the celebrities, the historic moments and movements, and the beautiful people. These weren’t subjects that caught the imagination of New York photographer Diane Arbus, so you get a welcome different perspective at her retrospective at the Timothy Taylor Gallery.

Arbus’s subjects were the “ordinary” people, or more famously, those that society considered extraordinary: the midgets, the giants, the twins, the triplets, the mentally ill, the downright peculiar and freakish.

Among the 60 pictures are two of her most well known: Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967 and Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, New York City, 1962. Surprisingly, it’s Arbus’s portraits of children that, for me, are the most reveling. Seeking to capture “the gap between intention and effect” it’s often in children where this is most strikingly apparent. See for example Teenage Couple on Hudson Street, New York City, 1963 (above). How old are these people? Probably not as old as they’re trying to appear. Their outwardly confident bravado fighting their uneasy self-consciousness, resulting in an awkward pose.

Mind you, the old folk don’t do too well either. Check the hilarious King and Queen of a Senior Citizens Dance, New York City, 1970. There they are, all crowned and cloaked, and rather than looking proud and regal they look humiliated and downtrodden.

Diane Arbus committed suicide via the pills and razor combo in 1971.

Diane Arbus at the Timothy Taylor Gallery, 15 Carlos Place, London, W1 until 27 June 2009. Admission free.

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