The photographer to Tally Brown, 1967
By descent to the present owner
Another print of this image:
Diane Arbus: Revelations (New York, 2003, in conjunction with the exhibition originating at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art), p. 72
Arbus’s handwritten note on the reverse of the photograph here reads, ‘Dear Tally, Would you try to get to The Museum of Modern Art between now and May 7 (main floor west wing) where there is a roomful of my photographs. I want you to see them. Diane.’
The Tally to whom this photograph was sent was Tally Brown (1934 – 1989), a singer and actress who played an active role in New York’s underground art scene in the 1960s and 1970s. Brown was one a number of friends and acquaintances personally invited by Arbus to see the photographer’s work in The Museum of Modern Art’s groundbreaking New Documents exhibition in 1967. This now-legendary show, curated by John Szarkowski, comprised photographs by Arbus, Lee Friedlander, and Garry Winogrand, and was the only major museum exhibition of Arbus’s work during her lifetime.
Tally Brown was a fixture of New York’s avant-garde at the time of the New Documents exhibition and moved in many of the alternative artistic circles frequented by Arbus. A short, stocky brunette, who in her later years was sometimes mistaken for the drag queen Divine, she was a star in Andy Warhol’s films and a singer on the cabaret circuit. Brown had been trained as a classical singer at Julliard, but took up jazz and the blues after meeting Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood in 1947. By the 1950s, she had become versed in the rhythm-and-blues standards of such performers as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith, and her album from this time, A Torch for Tally, with the Jimmy Diamond Quartet, featured the songs Limehouse Blues, Honeysuckle Rose, and My Man. In New York City in the 1960s, she became a well-known chanteuse at the Continental Baths, Reno Sweeney’s, and SNAFU, performing songs by Kurt Weill, the Rolling Stones, and David Bowie, among others.
Brown first encountered Andy Warhol in the summer of 1964, at a benefit for the influential Living Theatre, of which she was a member. She subsequently appeared in a number of his films, including Batman Dracula (1964), Camp (1965), Four Stars (1966-67), and the multi-media presentation, The Exploding Plastic Inevitable (1966). Brown also appeared in Gregory J. Markopoulos’s The Illiac Passion, Win Chamberlain’s Brand X, and Robert J. Kaplan’s Scarecrow in a Garden of Cucumbers. Remembering her days as an underground film star, Brown told an interviewer,
‘We were Superstars. . . It was creating a Hollywood outside Hollywood, and where you didn’t have to bother with learning to act, making the rounds, going to agents, getting your 8 x 10 glossy, doing small parts, being an extra, and gradually working up to becoming a star. You just got on camera and were a Superstar’ (Patrick S. Smith, Warhol: Conversations About the Artist, 1988, p. 257).
In her later years, Brown lived in Washington Heights, New York City, and was the focus of German director Rosa von Praunheim’s award-winning documentary, Tally Brown, N. Y. (1979). In addition to her work as an actress and singer, she helped to found, in 1951, the Fine Arts Conservatory in Miami, one of the first racially integrated arts and theater schools in the South.
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