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Double Exposure

Cathleen Mulcahy and Colleen Yorke
Long after Diane Arbus photographed them, twins Cathleen Mulcahy, left, and Colleen Yorke are still recognized by strangers. (Helayne Seidman - For The Washington Post)

Arbus snapped more than 300 photos that weekend, dressed in black and moving so unobtrusively around the house that the Matthaeis often forgot she was there.

"The only recollection I have of her is that I mistakenly thought she was Joan Baez," says Marcella, who lives in Florida now and describes herself as a part-time writer and part-time construction worker. "She was slender and pretty and my father had a Joan Baez album. I thought it was her."

The Matthaeis weren't anticipating Norman Rockwell results, of course, and that's not what they got. Arbus printed 50 of the photos, among them a striking portrait of Marcella, wearing a frilly sundress, her shoulders pulled back, her long bangs nearly shrouding the cryptically intense look in her eyes. It has the immediacy of a mug shot and you can't help but wonder what was going on in her mind at that moment. Is she fighting back tears? Deeply depressed?

Neither. "I was on my way to a party," she says. "I was interested in playing spin the bottle, and being put in a sundress with knee socks and sitting around with a stranger taking pictures of me was the last thing on my mind. What you see on my face is, 'Get this over and done with. My mom and dad told me to do this.' " At least Marcella knew she was being photographed. Other Arbus subjects had no idea. Like the infant in "A very young baby, N.Y.C. 1968," which ran in Harper's Bazaar and is now one of the images stopping the crowd at the Met. The baby's eyes are closed, lips a little drooly. One critic likened it to a death mask.

The weirdest part, it turns out, isn't what the infant looks like. It's who it is. It's Anderson Cooper. Yes, CNN anchorman Anderson Cooper.

"I have it in my bedroom," Cooper says by phone. "I think it's great."

The back story here is that Cooper's mom is Gloria Vanderbilt, the socialite turned denim jeans spokeswoman turned memoirist. She was married at the time to author Wyatt Emory Cooper, and she was friends with Arbus, who in 1968 was looking for babies to photograph for a series she was assembling. When Arbus sent the images to Harper's Bazaar, an editor called Vanderbilt with a question: Are you sure it's okay to put your son's name on this photo?

"They were worried that my mother might find the picture a little disturbing," says Cooper. "My mother was stunned." Publish his name, she told the magazine.

"I heard that Elton John sold me" -- by this he means a copy of "A very young baby" -- "at auction recently, and I was a little offended by that, frankly," Cooper says, laughing. He realizes why some might find the image unsettling, but he's amused by it and kind of thrilled to be in a museum.

His one request: "Just make it really clear to people that I'm not the kid with the grenade."

He's not the kid with the grenade. That would be Colin Wood, who is now 50 years old and an insurance agent living in Glendale, Calif. Wood has no memory of running into Arbus, which he did in Central Park one afternoon when he was 7. But he remembers that H.M.S. Pinafore outfit, and he recalls the type of toy grenade he is clutching so spasmodically in that picture. As fake weapons go, he recalls they were pretty annoying because they'd pop almost as soon as you threw them. "You couldn't throw it somewhere and duck," he says. "It blew up about a foot away."

Look at the other shots of Wood in that roll, which are included in the book version of "Revelations," and he comes across as a fairly typical kid, mugging for the camera. His guess is that he was out with his nanny when Arbus spotted him and after a few shots, he'd had enough. Or perhaps Arbus goaded him to give her something more.


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