Boy with Toy Hand Grenade

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A native New Yorker, Diane Arbus photographed the inhabitants of the city, seeking out those at the edges of society. Her work reflects daily life, with a gaze that emphasizes the abnormality of the commonplace. The 1962 picture of the boy with the hand grenade in Central Park seems no different from other children; his exasperation communicates a frustration beyond the specific image. One of her best-known images, it forces us to take note of the disturbances underlying everyday experience.

The boy in question was Colin Wood, the son of tennis player Sidney Wood, who was caught “in a moment of exasperation”, his hands claw-like, his face maniacal. Arbus captured this photograph by having the boy stand while moving around him, claiming she was trying to find the right angle. The boy became impatient and told her to “Take the picture already!” In other pictures on contact sheet, he is seen as a happy child.

Wood learnt of his notoriety at age 14, and hated the image during his youth, especially after a classmate photocopied it and plastered it around school. Now, he thinks of it as a great conversation starter. To him, Arbus “captured the loneliness of everyone. It’s all people who want to connect but don’t know how to connect.” He believes that’s also how she felt about herself. Deeply influenced by Weegee and Lisette Model, her teacher, Arbus created images that cut across American culture, calling into question what is usually regarded as normal and giving insight into the psychology of a nation–in this photo, grenade and grimace combined to form a dystopia Arbus imagined from the point of view of the Garden of Eden.

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