Diane Arbus - Photographs London Wednesday, May 20, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Video

    Diane Arbus 'Identical Twins, Roselle, N.J.', 1967

    "Her point of view was to keep the subject as it was, and rather rearrange herself..."London Photographs Department Head Lou Proud on Diane Arbus' iconic 'Identical Twins, Roselle, N.J.', 1967 to be offered in our Photographs Sale, 21 May in London.

  • Provenance

    Christie’s East, New York, 8 November 1982, lot 13
    Private Collection
    Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York
    Private Collection, Germany

  • Literature

    'Five Photographs by Diane Arbus,' Artforum, May 1971, p. 69
    Diane Arbus, New York: Aperture, 1972, cover and n.p.
    B. Newhall, The History of Photography from 1839 to the Present Date, New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1978, p. 290
    S. Greenough et al, On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Photography, Washington: National Gallery of Art; Art Institute of Chicago, 1989, p. 436, pl. 359
    Chorus of Light: Photographs from the Sir Elton John Collection, Atlanta: High Museum of Art; New York: Rizzoli, 2000, p. 88
    Diane Arbus: Revelations, New York: Random House, 2003, pp. 265, 270-271 and contact sheet p. 182
    Presumed Innocence: Photographic Perspectives of Children, Lincoln, MA: DeCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, 2008, pl. 51

  • Catalogue Essay

    "That is what I love: the differentness."

    The photographer Diane Arbus had a remarkably original and consistent vision. Her pictures remain as powerful and controversial today as when they were first seen. For Arbus, photography was not a medium that presented straightforward facts but a tool to expose the deeper part of the subject – the encounter with her sitter somehow produced the dramatic, the awkward, the ‘otherness’ of the person. Unique among her contemporaries was the visceral link and sophisticated understanding she developed with the sitter. Her work was led by her own fantasy to explore, to dare to see with her own eyes, to document people on the fringes of 1960s American society. Post 1962 she turned away from the 35mm camera towards a larger square format, her portraits adopting a formal classical style. This format, which has become synonymous with her work, allowed her to delve intravenously, exposing incidental but telling detail.

    The present lot, Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967, is a concrete example of her curiosity and anthropological interest. No-one exactly knows how she found out about this small-town Christmas party being held in honour of twins and triplets. The twins Cathleen and Colleen Wade were seven years old when they were photographed by Arbus. Dressed in hand-made matching green corduroy dresses (not black as assumed from the colour of the image), white tights and white headbands, they are isolated and photographed against a wall as though they are the only two children in attendance. This portrait provides us with so many different emotions and offers a glimpse of the people they may become; their mature personas are uncanny . Their father commented on the photograph, “We thought it was the worst likeness of the twins we’d ever seen.”

    The twins’s individuality via Arbus, the catalyst, transcends their likeness, a togetherness which comes with the territory of being a twin. Their individuality is seen in their unique body language and facial expressions – one slightly smiling, the other slightly frowning – even in the different patterns of their stockings. Arbus truly sees into the souls of her specifically chosen subjects, revealing their deeper personalities in her work.

    Arbus’s gift for rendering strange the familiar and vice versa continues to challenge our assumptions about the nature of everyday life. By the same token, her ability to uncover the familiar within the unusual has provided her images with an unwavering appeal and attraction. In the same way she skirted the fringes of cities and towns, endlessly searching for the extraordinary, we as the viewer are ever eager to see more of what she as an artist gives us of the world, of her world. We are addicted to the shock of her honesty and her will to celebrate all beings, circumstances and life situations.

  • Artist Biography

    Diane Arbus

    American • 1923 - 1971

    Transgressing traditional boundaries, Diane Arbus is known for her highly desirable, groundbreaking portraiture taken primarily in the American Northeast during the late 1950s and 1960s. Famous for establishing strong personal relationships with her subjects, Arbus' evocative images capture them in varied levels of intimacy. Whether in their living rooms or on the street, their surreal beauty transcends the common distance found in documentary photography.

    Taken as a whole, Arbus' oeuvre presents the great diversity of American society — nudists, twins, babies, beauty queens and giants — while each distinct image brings the viewer into contact with an exceptional individual brought to light through Arbus' undeniable genius. 

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Identical Twins, Roselle, N.J.

Gelatin silver print.
38.2 x 38.3 cm (15 x 15 1/8 in.)
Stamped ‘a diane arbus print’ and signed by Doon Arbus, Administrator, in ink on the verso.

£250,000 - 350,000 

Contact Specialist
Lou Proud
Head of Photographs
+ 44 207 318 4018


London 21 May 2015 4pm