25 May 2009

Judging a sardine by its can, again

An important aspect of Diane Arbus' social documentary portraits has always been the detailed environmental setting within which they are taken. Any viewing of the nominal subject which does not take in the background is seriously limited. I've spent more than an average amount of time studying Arbus images and, in particular, once spent a full day running a University of Texas seminar on three of them – including Topless dancer (which was interesting, with two nuns in the session).

On Thursday last week, my partner went to the Diane Arbus exhibition at the National Museum of Wales in Cardiff. She came back with a lot of very perceptive comment on what she'd seen, including some background detail on which I'd never myself picked up. In particular, she commented on the way that a card in Topless dancer is half hidden by a curtain.

On the left (in the pair of illustrations below) is the full image, with the card (on camera left, halfway up image, level with the dancer's elbow) circled in red. On the right is an enlargement of the card itself. (As always, click the images to see them at a larger scale.)

Arbus - Topless Dancer - detailArbus - Topless Dancer - circled

There is, of course, no reason whatsoever for me to be surprised that someone who makes her living as a topless dancer has a Leonardo da Vinci card in her dressing room. That I think it worth mentioning says something only about me, and about not judging books by their covers.


  • Diane Arbus, Topless dancer in her dressing room San Francisco, Cal. 1968. Silver/gelatine photograph.

2 comments:

Poor Pothecary said...

Not Onardo Avinci, the pizza delivery firm?

Poor Pothecary said...

Or, indeed, The Deluge, which I have to admit I totally misjudged by its cover.