Russian midget friends in a living room on 100th Street, N.Y.C., 1963
Diane Arbus (American, 1923–1971)
Gelatin silver print; 15 3/8 x 14 3/4 in. (39 x 37.5 cm)
Purchase, Joyce Frank Menschel, and Ann Tenenbaum and Thomas H. Lee Gifts; Louis V. Bell, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Rogers Funds and Joseph Pulitzer Bequest; and Marlene Nathan Meyerson Family Foundation, Twentieth–Century Photography Fund, Diana Barrett and Robert Vila, Elizabeth S. and Robert J. Fisher, Charlotte and Bill Ford, Lita Annenberg Hazen Charitable Trust and Hazen Polsky Foundation Inc., Jennifer and Joseph Duke, Jennifer and Philip Maritz, Saundra B. Lane, The Jerry and Emily Spiegel Family Foundation and Pamela and Arthur Sanders, Anonymous, and The Judith Rothschild Foundation Gifts, 2007 (2007.509)
Arbus's first subjects, found in locations from Coney Island to Central Park, included children's games, female impersonators, and sideshow performers at Hubert's Dime Museum on 42nd Street near Times Square. It was at Hubert's in 1959–60 that Arbus met Andrew Ratoucheff, a Russian midget best known for his impersonations of Marilyn Monroe and Maurice Chevalier. Seen here in the home of old friends, Ratoucheff has shed his stage persona and poses with his companions for this intimate group portrait. As enigmatic as Velázquez's Las Meninas, Arbus's photograph explores the limits and nature of objectivity not through the lens of the Spanish court of Philip IV, but by confronting us with the awesome potential drama of a personal encounter.