June 3, 2002
-- It's one of modern photography's most recognizable images. Two sets of eyes (are they blue?) staring out at the viewer from a black-and-white photo taken 35 years ago. The eyes belong to twin sisters who are identical but not the same.
As NPR's Madeleine Brand
describes the Diane Arbus' famous photo, it's "a portrait of two little girls -- maybe they're seven or eight years old. They're wearing matching outfits: white tights, corduroy dresses, and thick white headbands in their dark hair. The girls stand shoulder-to-shoulder, their light eyes looking straight into the camera -- straight at us. And the more you look back at them -- the more you stare -- the more you realize how different they are from each other."
The photo is the subject of the latest segment in NPR's Present at the Creation
series about American cultural icons, airing on Morning Edition
Not much is known about how Arbus came to take the twins' photo, Brand reports. The only clue is the title: Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967
. One theory is that Arbus found the girls at a twins convention. Or maybe she happened upon them on the street and snapped their picture. Photographer Neil Selkirk, who has been printing Arbus' photographs since her death in 1971, says there are fewer than 10 negatives on the roll, so it appears Arbus got the photo she wanted fairly quickly.
Selkirk seems fascinated with the twins photo. "Just look at the set of their mouths," he says. "They're different people looking at different worlds and yet they might be the same person."
Arbus biographer Patricia Bosworth says the photo encapsulates the photographer's vision. "She was involved in the question of identity. Who am I and who are you? The twin image expresses the crux of that vision: normality in freakishness and the freakishness in normality."
Indeed, Arbus is best known for her pictures of dwarfs, transvestites and nudists.
"I think there are things that nobody would see unless I photographed them," Arbus told Studs Terkel in a 1969 interview. "...I just have never believed that photographs are very useful to anyone but me. I mean my photographs. Except I suppose it would be nice to keep them -- because I do think I have some slight corner on something about the quality of things."
Jeff Rosenheim is a photography curator at New York's Metropolitan Museum, which is scheduling a major Arbus retrospective next year. "It's a transformative experience having seen an Arbus work...," Rosenheim says. "You do look at the world differently. You can't not."
Learn more about Diane Arbus and see her works at the Masters of Photography
See Arbus' Screaming Woman with Blood on Her Hands
and The Headless Woman
at the The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Read a review
of Diane Arbus, a Biography
Read a Sound Portraits
story about The Jewish Giant
, the subject of one of Arbus' most famous photos.
See a Diane Arbus biography, timeline and photos
Read an article
See Diane Arbus' Honored Cosmic Player Plate at the Cosmic Baseball Association
, a baseball league of the imagination.