Looking Back

Nicholas Nixon

February 6, 2018

Diane Arbus, Albino sword swallower at a carnival, Md., 1970. ©The Estate of Diane Arbus; Courtesy Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

We asked Nicholas Nixon to tell us about a picture that means something to him, and why. Nicholas Nixon: Persistence of Vision is on view through April 22 at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston.  

I have had a wonderful print of Diane Arbus’s Sword Swallower, printed by Neil Selkirk, hanging over my desk since 1975, when I was lucky enough to trade a few of my own pictures for it. I love it as much now, maybe more, than I did then.

Why, you might ask. Well, first of all, everything in it is beautiful: the picture, the subject, the space of the tent wall, and the print itself.  It is an offering and a sacrifice at the same time.  Her voluptuousness and gesture are affirming life while the swords make clear the possibility of the quick end we all fear.

I am not a practicing Christian, but the cross-like form of her arms and torso always suggest to me the presence of something bigger than I know, something even sacred. I feel very small, and glad to be part of whatever it is.