Diane Arbus - Photographs London Wednesday, November 2, 2011 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Acquired directly from the artist; Private Collection, New York; Phillips de Pury, New York, 9 April 2008, lot 327

  • Literature

    M. Israel, Diane Arbus, New York: Aperture, 1972, n.p.; Diane Arbus: Revelations, New York: Random House, 2003, pp. 104–05 and contact sheet p. 164

  • Catalogue Essay

    ‘Giving a camera to Diane Arbus is like giving a hand grenade to a baby’.
    SEAN O’HAGAN, ‘Tales of the Unsuspecting’, Observer, 16 October 2005

    Arbus was herself a small bird-like woman who appeared and disappeared with a quiet unobtrusive presence. Her early work reflects this stateof being; shrouded, un-focused, physically realised shady revelations manifested in small images produced by her 35 mm camera. The detail is defused and sometimes lost like the souls of those whom she was drawn to represent.

    There were (as with most creatives) happenings which produced marked changes in Diane Arbus as a person and consequently within her work altering how she perceived the world with her camera eye. One was the deepening influence of her teacher, Lisette Model, who taught her how to reveal photographically and how not to. The other dramatic event was the separation from her husband Allan with whom she had shared many a fashion commission and who was intrinsic to her life on every level during the early 1950s.

    But perhaps what has become the most important in terms of photographic history was her sudden leap form her trusted Nikon to a large format camera producing big square negatives and prints where nothing was spared or disguised, the seductive shroud of the former grainy alchemy was replaced by an unforgiving, ‘loveless’ starkness – in this moment she became ‘Arbus’, and her signature style was born. Arbus’s searching with this external other mechanical eye became obsessive; wandering and trawling the seedy fringes of the Bowery, the parks of Brooklyn, and Times Square. Arbus herself had an ‘otherness’ of being allowing her to move in and swallow up the odd and the gawky without question, photographing these beings was Arbus’s way of celebrating them, perhaps she felt they were some kind of mirror, she was attracted to what was already familiar within her own physiological make up. She joined so intimately with her subjects, it was almost intravenous, so addict-like and insatiable was her need to go inside. Some writers have suggested that the union with these ‘freaks’ was more involved than in the darkroom.

    Children were not excluded from Arbus’s gaze and were equally hunted and observed in the same merciless way. Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, NYC 1962 has become one of the most recognisable images by Arbus, and, in terms of photographic history. It has also been seen by some as a visual synonym for pre-Vietnam America in the way that its awkward and illustrated frustration captures anxiety and unrest. The boy in the shot is Colin Wood (the son of the tennis player Sidney Wood) caught in a moment of exasperation. The shot was taken as Arbus circled and moved around him trying to find the right angle. Characteristically, out of all the frames on the contact sheet showing a perfectly normal happy child, Arbus connected with the bizarre and unsettling one. She followed her obsessions fearlessly, the camera being the catalyst for the reception of her emotions by others, her vision being produced in crystalline stills preserving human otherness and enriching photography forever.

  • 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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Child with a toy hand grenade in Central Park, NYC

Gelatin silver print, printed 1963.
30.4 x 29.8 cm (11 7/8 x 11 3/4 in).
Signed, dated and inscribed ‘For Isabel and Freddie’ in ink in the margin.

£60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for £79,250


3 November 2011