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Barbara Strachey: Virginia Woolf, 1938

Diane Arbus would have been only 15 years old at the time Barbara Strachey took this picture but I think this square format photograph of novelist Virginia Woolf is pretty much what her portrait might have looked like. The famous pre-Raphelite-looking photographs of Woolf when she was a young woman by George Beresford are undeniably wonderful but this, taken when Woolf was in her mid-fifties, is their equal. The waves of light glittering through the branches of trees (with such wispy, soluble trunks), the crashing wave of light across the centre of the picture and the exquisitely delicate whirl of silk scarf held tight to her throat by a brooch nearly as big as an egg. The unsteady expression in the face, awaits forever the moment when the shutter will, finally, pop open its eye and in an instant take into account all the great breadth details it finds there.

Diane Arbus: Jorge Luis Borges, 1969