The world of Diane Arbus at Nottingham Contemporary

By Mark Sheerin | 08 July 2010
A black and white photo of a pair of identical twin girls

(Above) Diane Arbus, Identical twins, Roselle, NJ (1967). © 1970 The Estate of Diane Arbus. ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Acquired jointly through The d’Offay Donation with assistance from the National Heritage Memorial Fund and The Art Fund, 2008

Exhibition: Diane Arbus – Artist Rooms on Tour with the Art Fund, Nottingham Contemporary, Nottingham, until October 3 2010

It is odd that Norman Mailer compared giving Diane Arbus a camera with "putting a live grenade in the hands of a child." One of the photographer's most celebrated images shows a boy with a toy grenade. It was taken a year before Mailer's comment.

You could argue Arbus shows a writer's gift for metaphor here. She may have made her name as a documentary photographer, but her famous gallery of freaks are also a collection of human archetypes.

Certainly, the appeal of her work goes far beyond voyeurism. She has had nearly 20 worldwide exhibitions since her death in 1971 and the current show, Artist Rooms, has already toured the National Museum Cardiff and Dean Gallery, Edinburgh.

Featuring 70 photos, it offers an overview of the controversial photographer's career. There are circus folk alongside socialites and cross-dressers side by side with suburbanites. The bizarre is balanced by the mundane.

Alongside the familiar square shots taken with a Rolleiflex camera is lesser known work shot using 35mm film. Among the best known pictures on display is her 1967 portrait of identical twins, part of a rare portfolio of original prints.

The image was borrowed by Stanley Kubrick in his 1980 film The Shining, but it could just as easily have found its way into a novel.

Open 10am-7pm Tuesday-Friday (6pm Saturday, Sunday 11am-5pm). Admission free.

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