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This black and white photograph depicts a bare-chested man known as Jack Dracula or Jack Baker, sitting at a table in a bar with a drink, a packet of cigarettes and an ashtray. The bare skin visible above the tabletop reveals Dracula to be embellished with innumerable tattoos. There are twenty-eight stars on his face, as well as four eagles, six circular symbols shaped like doughnuts, a Maori moustache, and a pair of trompe-l’oeil goggles. On his chest is a large depiction of an eagle beside a representation of a bat, and a line of text, illegible in the photograph, encircles his neck. His crossed arms are also heavily marked with illustrations that include a dragon, a scorpion, a scull and cross-bones, a smoking scull wearing a top hat, and a cartoon devil. Despite his appearance, the setting and the sitter’s pose and expression are mundane. This print is number two in an edition of seventy-five. It was printed by Neil Selkirk on behalf of the artist’s estate.
Dracula is the subject of another of Arbus’s photographs, Jack Dracula, the Marked Man, N.Y.C. 1961 (Tate AR00570). This image shows Dracula lying outdoors in shrubland, smoking a cigarette. Both of these images were taken for a five-image magazine spread and accompanying text commissioned by Harper’s Bazaar called ‘The Full Circle’. Here Arbus depicted and described five eccentrics from New York, beginning with Dracula. She wrote that ‘Jack is tattooed simply because he wants to be’ (Diane Arbus, ‘The Full Circle’, Harper’s Bazaar, November 1961, reprinted in Doon Arbus and Marvin Israel (eds.), Diane Arbus: Magazine Work, 1960–1971, London 1992, pp.14–19). Jack Dracula in a Bar, N.Y.C. was not printed in this article, the final image selected was AR00570.
In an interview conducted shortly before his death, Dracula maintained that the two photographs were taken during the summer of 1961 in New London, Connecticut, as opposed to New York City. Arbus had met Dracula in New York when he worked as a sideshow attraction at Hubert’s Dime Museum and Flea Circus in Times Square. The performers at Hubert’s had grown accustomed to seeing Arbus there several times a week, watching the show over and over again and photographing their acts. Dracula had initially declined requests to be the subject of Arbus’s photographs, but eventually consented when she travelled to New London and offered to make copies of the pictures for him. It is possible that Arbus’s suggestion that these portraits were taken in New York City was deliberately misleading, having already sold the story and chosen her subjects as an exposé about New York eccentrics before Dracula had moved to New London.
Arbus started taking pictures in the early 1940s. In 1956 she began numbering her negatives in sequence and, over the next fifteen years, contacted more than 7,500 rolls of film and made finished prints of more than a thousand different pictures. During her life Arbus published over 250 pictures in more than seventy magazine articles. The bulk of these were commissioned by Esquire and Harper’s Bazaar, but other less frequent publications include the Sunday Times Magazine, Nova, New York, Show, Essence, Harper’s, New York Times, Holiday, Sports Illustrated, and the Saturday Evening Post.
In a grant application to the Guggenheim Foundation in 1963, Arbus wrote that she considered her special interest in photography as:
a kind of contemporary anthropology … While we regret that the present is not like the past and despair of its ever becoming the future, its innumerable, inscrutable habits lie in wait for their meaning … These are our symptoms and our monuments. I want simply to save them, for what is ceremonious and curious and commonplace will be legendary.
(Diane Arbus, ‘American Rites, Manners and Customs’ (1963), in Diane Arbus: Revelations, exhibition catalogue, Victoria & Albert Museum, London 2005, p.57.)
The writer Susan Sontag later contended that ‘freak show’ images such as Jack Dracula in a Bar, N.Y.C. and Jack Dracula, the Marked Man, N.Y.C. were ‘based on distance, on privilege, on a feeling that what the viewer is asked to look at is really other’ (Susan Sontag, ‘Freak Show’, in The New York Review of Books, 15 November 1973, reprinted as ‘America, Seen Through Photographs, Darkly’, in Susan Sontag, On Photography, New York 1977, pp.27–48).
Gregory Gibson, Hubert’s Freaks: The Rare-Book Dealer, the Times Square Talker, and the Lost Photos of Diane Arbus, Orlando 2008.
Kenton Robinson, ‘The Marked Man: Jack Dracula’s New London years’, The Day, 13 December 2009, http://www.theday.com/article/20091213/NWS01/912139999/1017/NWS, accessed 11 June 2012.
Elisabeth Sussman and Doon Arbus, Diane Arbus: A Chronology, 1923–1971, New York 2011.