From the Catalogue: Diane Arbus, Lots 122 - 125

Sep 22, 2016 4:50PM

On August 16, 1967, Diane Arbus turned her lens to a new subject, the tiny competitors of the 30th annual Diaper Derby competition at Palisades Amusement Park in New Jersey. The photographs show the infant winners and losers exactly as they are, some crying, a few smiling, most with their backs to the camera, and overall, a general sense that the subjects are more curious about their surroundings (or their toes) than turning a glance to the keen, observant lens of Diane Arbus. Just earlier that year, Arbus wrote to her daughter Amy, "I suddenly realized that when I photograph people I don’t anymore want them to look at me. I used nearly always to wait for them to look me in the eye but now it’s as if I think I will see them more clearly if they are not watching me watching them." While a subject that is rare to Arbus’s work, it is then perhaps without coincidence that in the months and years to come, other pictures followed, with Diane returning to those at the very beginning of their lives, documenting and investigating the innocence of her subjects, who just learning about the world, could be photographed so easily unposed, and with candor. Babies, according to Arbus, "can take the most remorseless scrutiny."

While on assignment for Harper’s Bazaar the following month, Diane Arbus photographed another notable infant, the serenely sleeping Anderson Cooper in Gloria Vanderbilt and Wyatt Cooper’s Manhattan home, which was ultimately published in the February 1968 issue under the title A New Life. These recent projects, coupled with the initial thoughts for her book, A Family Album were all fresh in her mind, when Arbus produced the photographers offered here in lots 122-125.

Set in a walled-in backyard, Toddler being held in garden, N.J., 1968 serves as an intimate, more domestic homage to Robert Frank’s iconic image from The Americans, Charleston, South Carolina, 1955, an image of which Arbus would have known at the time. With her back to us, the nanny in lot 123, Toddler being held by nurse, N.J. fades into the background as our eyes focus mostly on the young child. Herself raised in an affluent home, Arbus' primary caregiver for the first seven years of her life was a nanny whom she called 'Mamselle', with these photographs capturing an upbringing, in some ways, familiar to her own.

The images on offer were unpublished and are exceptionally rare, early prints that provide a unique glimpse into a distinct moment of Arbus’ oeuvre which, through iconic images such as, A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y., 1970; Jayne Mansfield Climber-Ottaviano, actress, with her daughter Jayne Marie, L.A., C.A., 1965; A family one evening in a nudist camp, PA., 1965; A Woman with her Baby Monkey, N.J., 1971, and Identical Twins, Roselle, N.J., 1967, consistently explored and celebrated the complex beauty and often atypical dynamics of the American family.

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