Diane Arbus’s “A Very Young Baby, N.Y.C.”


Monday morning often starts with my favourite weekly magazine The New Yorker. In the current issue, there is an anecdotal story about Diane Arbus’s photograph of Anderson Cooper called “A Very Young Baby, N.Y.C.”. David Zwirner Gallery, in Chelsea, recently opened the retrospective of Diane Arbus photographs, which is a re-creation of the Museum of Modern Art’s Arbus retrospective from 1972.

“A Very Young Baby, N.Y.C.” is displayed “among photographs of giants, cross-dressers, circus “freaks,” street people—all sorts of outcasts and eccentrics”. The article tells a story about the photograph and how it became to exist:

His mother didn’t know Arbus well. The two were introduced by Richard Avedon, a mutual friend, who had taken many pictures of Vanderbilt. The women met in November, 1966, when Arbus went to the apartment on the Upper East Side to photograph Vanderbilt and her husband as they got dressed for Truman Capote’s black-and-white ball. “My mother was pregnant with me, so I like to think I’m in more than just one Arbus print,” Cooper said.

“I have these three letters,” he went on, bringing up images of them on his phone, noting that he found them after his mother died, in 2019, when he started rummaging through her boxes of papers. One letter from Arbus to Vanderbilt begins: “I printed this for you last spring but I forgot about it until I heard about your new baby.” She was referring to a picture she’d taken of Cooper’s older brother, Carter. “Also I have something beautiful to ask you about. I’ve become obsessed with photographing new babies.” Arbus asked if she could photograph baby Anderson.

The New Yorker

The story is special to me as I own a copy of this photograph which was originally published in Harper’s Bazaar in 1968 and it’s part of a collection of photos included in Diana Arbus Magazine Work (ISBN-13 ‏: ‎ 978-0893812331) book which I have and love.

Another interesting fact about this photograph is that apparently, critics at the time said that it resembled a Roman death mask. Poor Anderson Cooper… I think he was a cute baby, and he is a handsome man now. I think he looks very stoic in this image.

If you are in NYC, check out .cataclysm. The 1972 Diane Arbus Retrospective Revisited” at the David Zwirner Gallery, in Chelsea from September 14—October 22, 2022.

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