Read the following passage, which contains some underlined or numbered words or phrases.
Each of the answer choices contains alternatives for the underlines; choose the one that fits best grammatically or stylistically. If you think the original is the best answer, choose Choice ‘A’, or NO CHANGE.
Questions about specific parts of the passage or about the passage as a whole are identified by numbers only, not underlines. These will be associated with specific questions.
Artistic Choice as an Aspect of Talent
A picture is taken at 1/125th of a second. What do you know of a photographer’s work? A hundred pictures, let’s say
a hundred and twenty-five – well, that’s a body of work. That comes to all told – 1 second. Let’s say more like two
hundred and fifty photographs – that would be a rather large body of work and that would come out to 2 seconds.
The life of a photographer, even a great photographer as they say – 2 seconds.”
- William Klein, from the short film “Contacts” 1983.
Diane Arbus acquired a new Rolleiflex camera in 1962 and chose to photograph young children pretending to be
adults. During this very productive period she encountered Colin Wood, a seven-year-old playing with a plastic hand
grenade in New York’s Central Park. The image as published in the book Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph is
about eight-and-a-half inches square (21.5 cm) and the eponymous child stares directly into the camera, centered in
the frame, and composed so that the viewer can see his entire body. The child is clearly central to the composition as
his body is sharply in (4) focus, while the background of the trees, grass, walkways, park benches and other park visitors
are not. In this black and white image, Colin appears to be blond, and is wearing a sort of sailor suit, with one suspender
falling down by his elbow. His eyes glare into the camera and out at the viewer, and his mouth is drawn down into a
grimace. He is clutching a realistic-looking toy grenade, palm out, in his right hand. His left hand resembles a claw,
almost as if he is gripping another invisible hand grenade.
The out-of-focus background showing the curve of the paved pathway, two prominent trees, and very unfocused
images of the other park visitors gives the photograph an astonishing feeling of depth – the child with his grenade
literally and figuratively explodes off the page.
The boy’s grimace, the tilt of his head, the loose strap on his outfit and his claw-like hands give him a demented look.
You must question, is this child mentally challenged, “retarded” in the parlance of the day? Is there some sort of cause
and effect going on here? Is the boy the actor of violence or the victim of it? And yet, he is carefully and well dressed,
his hair nicely cut, his sailor suit clean and buttoned up, his shoes tied and double-knotted. And yet, he appears to be
alone, surrounded by a vastness of concrete pathway, the others in the park distant and disconnected from this small
The background and the foreground of the image are also disturbing and open to a variety of interpretations. Almost
directly behind the boy’s head is a very out-of-focus image of a woman, facing the camera and the boy. In his interview
with David Segal Wood guesses that he was in Central Park with his nanny. Is this his nanny, watching over him? And
yet – again – this unfocused woman looms behind his head, somehow ominous, not reassuring. The spray of light
through the trees behind the child almost seems to radiate from him. This could be beautiful in another image and in
this one seems to suggest the explosion of the grenade, and only serves to highlight the detritus and litter on the
The deliberate ambiguity and the multiple layers of meaning demonstrate an extremely high level of expertise in what
appear to be a simple snapshot of a boy in a park. Close examination of the photograph in the hardcover edition shows
that the artist highlighted and defined certain aspects of the picture using what I presume to be a white pencil. Look
carefully at the strap hanging from his shoulder, at his dark shorts, and at the grenade, and you can see how Arbus
“improved” and increased the contrast of the image.
Daniel Coyle, in The Talent Code, would have us believe that the expertise Arbus attained is the result of deep practice,
working at the edge of her ability. No doubt, Diane Arbus spent many, many hours learning to use her camera, and
develop her film and prints, therefore something else might be going on here as well. William Klein, in the opening
quotation, suggests that choosing the precise 1/125th of a second to depress the shutter, and choosing the proper
image out of a multitude of images may be a talent great photographers possess. As an example of this, please examine
the contact sheet that Diane Arbus made of the Colin Wood shoot. David Segal, in his interview of the then 50-year-old
Wood, says that “[Colin] comes across as a fairly typical kid, mugging for the camera.” Where then do our speculations
about sanity, isolation, violence and doom go? How can this one image out of all the images in the contact sheet have
such contradictory and ambiguous layers of meaning?
I chose this piece in particular because it emphasizes one of the weaknesses in Daniel Coyle’s argument about talent,
the ability in a creative endeavor to choose. A great dancer chooses the precise tilt of the chin, the actor the exact
length of a pause between one moment and the next, and a photographer must choose which image says more, means
more than any other. Is “Child with a Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park” a lie? Certainly. Colin Wood was just mugging
around with a photographer. Does this image tell a greater truth? Diane Arbus said that “the more specific you are, the
more general it’ll be.” In this harsh and serendipitous photograph is all the complexity and ambiguity of great art.
And it is choice that makes it so.
Created for Albert.io. September 2014
The child is clearly central to the composition as his body is sharply in (4) focus, while the background of the trees, grass, walkways, park benches and other park visitors are not.