The picture above, Identical Twins, Roselle, NJ, was taken by Jewish photographer Diane Arbus in New Jersey in 1967. Arbus is an American Jewish photographer who is widely recognized for her black and white square photographs of obscure and unusual people. Despite her very traditional, wealthy, Jewish upbringing she was drawn to awkward and bazaar people complete with fascinating imperfections. Her entire childhood she felt like she was living in an unreality due to her families wealth. Throughout her career she was constantly searching for the “reality” she was forbidden from as a child. Arbus was described in her field as “shy, sweet and girlish or coldly aggressive and ‘as tough as any man’” (Hillary Mac Austin, Jewish Women’s Archive). Arbus was able to excel in her field of art due to her innate curiosity of people and accessibility to her subjects of interest.
“If I were just curious, it would be very hard to say to someone, ‘I want to come to your house and have you talk to me and tell me the story of your life.’ I mean people are going to say, ‘You’re crazy.’ Plus they’re going to keep mighty guarded. But the camera is a kind of license. A lot of people, they want to be paid that much attention and that’s a reasonable kind of attention to be paid.” (Diane Arbus, memorablequotations.com). Photographers are able to capture people in their everyday lives and portray them as accurately as possible.
In this specific image, the twins are dressed identically and have identical visual genes but the alteration of their facial expressions changes their overall characteristic drastically. The twin on the left looks somber, while the twin on the right looks happy. The slightest adjustment in the corner of the mouth completely changes the attitude of the two girls. The discontent in the expression of the girl on the left might express her dissatisfaction in being dressed exactly like her twin sister. The overall picture portrays Arbus’s personal struggle with the question of identity.
Excellent title. Very good opening sentence, clear and direct. Your use of quotation, both from others writing about Arbus and from Arbus herself adds a valuable dimension to your discussion. Your discussion of Arbus’s childhood and discomfort with her family’s wealth helps us to understand part of her motivation for taking portraits and using the camera for access into people’s lives (as the quote says: the camera is a kind of license). Attention to the subtleties of facial expression is good. Next time, also try to think a bit more about the Jewish context of the era and how that might have had an impact on Arbus as a photographer.