It is May in the year 1967. Diane Arbus has been photographing seriously, as a self-identified artist, for about a dozen years. Her work produced while on editorial assignments has been published in a range of magazines, both domestic and abroad — Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, The London Sunday Times Magazine, Show, New York Magazine, Glamour, and The Saturday Evening Post, among others. It has been just over three years since she received a Guggenheim Fellowship for her photographs.
John Szarkowski, the most important curator of photography in the 20th century, has just included her work in his groundbreaking exhibition, 'New Documents' at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (February 28 to May 7, 1967), a three-person show with works by Garry Winogrand and a young Lee Friedlander. 'In the past decade a new generation of photographers has directed the documentary approach toward more personal ends,' Szarkowski wrote. 'Their aim has been not to reform life, but to know it.'
She writes of that experience to a friend in California saying, 'Now there is a show... 30 of my photographs at the modern museum. I long for you to see it. It is so beautiful, all in a splendid room and people stare into them, hundreds of strangers as if they were reading. I stand there for hours watching people watch the pictures and listening to what they say' (Revelations, p. 185). To her brother Howard, she admits, 'I’ve been jumpy. Going in fits and starts since the show… But suddenly I have a lot of work, an odd combination of public and private work and probably that will be good' (Revelations, p. 188).
The week after the exhibition at MoMA came down, Arbus took photographs at a pro-war parade in New York. Revelations reproduces contact sheet #5027 from that day, and from which she printed three images, including Boy with a straw hat, the first exposure on the roll.
From an artistic viewpoint, Arbus has been focusing on the singularity of her subjects, and presenting them in an increasingly direct visual language. The full title of this particular image — Boy with a straw hat waiting to march in a pro-war parade, N.Y.C. 1967 — sets a social and historical context without pre-determining an interpretation.
This image resonates with her, and in 1970 she decides to include it in her portfolio, A box of ten photographs, which is a planned edition of 50. Only a handful are produced in her lifetime. The print offered in the current lot is outside that edition. It is signed and printed in her signature 16” x 16” size, and as such is extremely rare. No other signed lifetime print of this image in this size has appeared at auction.