Diana Arbus photographed those at the fringes of society, and in doing so created some of the most powerful photographic portraits ever made. Arbus photographed compulsively, seeking out subjects that were at once ordinary and otherworldly. Her incredibly famous image of a set of triplets in their bedroom perfectly encapsulates her project.
Arbus was fascinated by twins and triplets and said, “triplets remind me of myself when I was an adolescent. Lined up in three images: daughter, sister, bad girl, with secret lusting fantasies, each with a tiny difference.” Heightened by bright flash and stark tonal contrast, this photograph’s composition is dramatic and clever. Arbus links the three identical girls physically by the vast swathes of matching blacks that make up their skirts, and by the bright contrasting whites of their shirts.
The triplets are captured in their personal space, in their bedroom, on one of three identical beds caught within the frame. Arbus would often spend hours with her subjects, photographing them in the confines of their own personal space. This gives her portraits a striking and sometimes confrontational intimacy. The subjects are active; they are invited to look with directness straight into the camera lens.
Before Arbus’s tragic suicide in 1971, she had begun to work with printer Neil Selkirk to produce editions of her prints. After her death Selkirk and Arbus’s daughter, Doon, decided to honour Arbus’s original editions, and continued to print the works, under the exact same instructions and procedures. This particular silver gelatin print was made in the years just after Arbus’s death and it is numbered 49 of 75
(By Alexandra MacKay)