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Exhibition of legendary American photographer comes to North Herts

One of Arbus' photos: A young man and his pregnant wife
A young man and his pregnant wife in Washington Square Park, N.Y.C. 1965. ARTIST ROOMS Tate and National Galleries of Scotland © The Estate of Diane Arbus

ARTIST ROOMS Diane Arbus comes to North Herts Museum, celebrating the enduring influence of this iconic photographer with an exhibition that marks the centenary of her birth.

On display from 2 December to 25 February, this is a rare opportunity to see work by one of the most original and influential photographers of the 20th century. Presented in partnership with Tate and National Galleries of Scotland, the exhibition draws from the remarkable collection of Arbus’s work in ARTIST ROOMS, featuring some of her most iconic black and white portraits. North Herts is the final and most southerly venue in this nationwide tour, which travelled to Barnsley, Dumfries and Shetland.

Born in New York in 1923, Diane Arbus is considered one of the great figures of American photography, pioneering a bold new photographic approach which bridged the gap between documentary photography and fine art. She began photographing in the 1940s, and her first published images appeared in Esquire magazine in 1960. Over the next ten years Arbus produced an extraordinary body of work in which she documented the lives, appearances and emotions of people, celebrating the extraordinary in the ordinary.

Through her commitment ‘to photograph everybody’, she was drawn to marginalised people and communities, and the sub-cultures of post-war American society. Arbus built up relationships of trust and respect with her subjects to produce powerful portraits of astonishing intimacy. Captured in her singular vision, her images of couples, children, circus performers, drag artists, middle-class families and celebrities reveal a gap between how people want to be perceived, and how they actually appear.

A highlight of the exhibition is the rare limited-edition portfolio printed in her lifetime: A box of ten photographs 1969-71. Arbus gave considerable thought to what this portfolio should be and how it should look, selecting a set of ten images comprising some of her most iconic portraits, including: Identical twins, Roselle, N.J. 1966 and A Jewish giant at home with his parents in the Bronx, N.Y. 1970. For Arbus, the ten images represented who she was as an artist and how she saw her work in the world, a legacy that became more solidified with her tragic death by suicide in 1971.

A black and white photo of twin young girls not smiling in school uniform standing in the middle of the road by Cheryl Fisher
Double trouble by local photographer Cheryl Fisher

The museum also offers a local focus to Arbus’s work, with an accompanying exhibition ‘Inspired by Arbus’ from Hitchin Camera Club in the Arches Gallery, until 10 December. In these photographs, the Camera Club adopted the formal qualities and techniques for which Arbus is known: the frontal square-format portrait taken with Rolleiflex camera.

Cllr Keith Hoskins, Executive Member for Enterprise and Arts, said: “This is really exciting for North Herts and the surrounding areas – it’s a rare opportunity to encounter Arbus’s remarkable work at first hand, and a compelling insight into the haunting and evocative imagery for which she is recognised worldwide.”

Cllr Tamsin Thomas, deputy Executive Member for Enterprise and Arts, added: “We are so pleased to have this exhibition which has been complemented by local photographers who have been inspired by her.”

ARTIST ROOMS is a national collection of modern and contemporary art jointly owned by Tate and National Galleries of Scotland. Its programme reaches audiences across the UK and is developed through local partnerships.

North Herts Museum is located on Brand Street, Hitchin, open Tue-Sat 10.30am-4.30pm and Sun 11am-3pm. Admission is free.

For more information check out @northhertsmuseum on Facebook and Instagram, @nhertsmuseum on Twitter, visit the North Herts Museum website or call 01462 474554.

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