Woo Foo…Potato chips…and Diane Arbus

Post by Christopher H. Paquette

anonymous, Lucas & Potato chips, from

This is a photograph of Charlie “Woo Foo” Lucas and Andy “Potatochips” Patoachess, at Hubert’s Dime Museum & Flea Circus ( New York City), taken sometime in the late 1950’s. Hubert’s is related to a discovery of a cache of Diane Arbus photographs in Philadelphia–soon to go on auction.

In 2003, Philadelphia book dealer and African-Americana collector Bob Langmuir purchased a pile of old papers that contained documents and records kept by Lucas during the years he managed Hubert’s. Charlie Lucas was a one-time side show performer known as Woo Foo, and “Potato chips” was a singer, dancer and comedian.

Turns out that among these old papers were at least 21 rare and early photographs taken by frequent Huberts visitor, Diane Arbus. (Other frequent visitors to Huberts in those days included Tom Wolfe, Bob Dylan, and Lenny Bruce).

Russian Midget Friends in a Living Room on 100th Street, N.Y.C 1963

This is the first photograph in Aperture’s 1972 Diane Arbus Monograph, titled Russian Midget Friends in a Living Room on 100th Street, N.Y.C 1963. In this Monograph, Arbus is quoted from lectures and writings, including….

”Freaks was a thing I photographed a lot. It was one of the first things I photographed and it had a terrific kind of excitement for me. I just used to adore them. I still do adore some of them…. There’s a quality of legend about freaks. Like a person in a fairy tale who stops you and demands that you answer a riddle. Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They’ve already passed their test in life. They’re aristocrats”.

During her visits to Hubert’s in 1959, Arbus was also studying under Lisette Model. While the two photographers share similar styles, one of their most significant differences is that Model rarely made personal connections with her subjects, while Arbus made intimate and long lasting connections with hers. She had just ended 14 years of successful fashion photography, and yet she describes her Hubert’s shots as… “one of the first things I photographed”. She had discovered excitement and a connection to her art. She connected with Charlie Lucas and left him with these newly discovered prints, and she connected with Andy Potoachess, visiting him again years later for an intimate portrait in his living room.

This collection of rare Diane Arbus prints and Hubert’s memorabilia will be sold at auction sometime next year by Phillips de Pury & Co. There will be a pre-sale exhibition in February at Steve Turner Gallery in Los Angeles, and a yet to be determined New York exhibit in Late March/Early April. (oh, that there could be a Philadelphia showing?) Stay tuned.

The fascinating story of Bob Langmuir’s discovery and journey to authenticate the photographs is the subject of a soon to be released book by Harcourt Trade Publishers, Hubert’s Freaks: The Rare-Book Dealer, the Times Square Talker, and the Lost Photos of Diane Arbus, by Gregory Gibson) .

Here’s a link to the New York Times article on the find.

–Christopher Paquette is both a photographer and a writer. Here’s a link to his blog C.H. Paquette Photography