Friday, May 1, 2009

The Waitress at Sunshine Park


In the summer of 1963 Lorna Anton was a teenager working as a waitress at Sunshine Park, the nudist camp on Somers Point – Mays Landing Road along the Great Egg Harbor river, a summer job at the Jersey Shore resort where she lived in a trailer with her family.

Lorna Anton was working with just an apron on when a women who she didn’t know and wouldn’t ever see again asked her if she would pose for a photograph. She obliged, creating a moment in time that Diane Arbus captured on film, a picture that would become one of the now famous photographer’s best known works, and recently featured in an Arbus retrospective show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

When one of the photos was recently auctioned at Sothby’s, it fetched a cool $138,000, and once again called attention to the photo, the waitress Lora Anton, Arbus, her work and Sunshine Park, the nudist camp, said to be the first of its kind in the country, which operated from 1938 until March 1982.

Arbus, born Diane Nemerov in New York City on March 14, 1923, was herself a fourteen year old teenager when she met Allan Arbus, a U.S. Army Signal Corps photographer, who she married and began a New York fashion photographer business. In 1957, tired of fashion, she began to take photographs independently, and started to focus on people who were different instead of beautiful.

Diane Arbus photographed circus freaks, transvestites and patients in insane asylums, creating a unique genre of work, later explaining “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. I don’t quite mean they’re my best friends but they made me feel a mixture of shame and awe. 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.”

In 1963 Arbus made her way to Somers Point and up Mays Landing Road to Sunshine Park campground, which was founded in 1934 by Ilsley Boone, publisher of Sunshine & Health, the official journal of the National Nudist Council.

While it is not yet clear if any other Arbus photos from Sunshine Park exist, she took a few photographs of Lorna Anton in her apron in front of the grill, one of which fetched $16,000 in the 1960s and in April was sold for $138,000, while another one was included in the Arbus retrospective at the Met in May, all of which led Lauren Collins, author of the New York Talk of the Town column to write “Where They Are Now.”

While Arbus received a Guggenheim Fellowship for her work in 1963, the year she visited Sunshine Park, and taught photography at Cooper Union School in New York for many years, she committed suicide in July 1971.

At the New Yorker Collins tracked down some of Arbus’ subjects, including “The Child with a Tony Hand Grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962, “The Identical Twins from Roselle, New Jersey, 1967” and Lorna Anton, the “Young Waitress at a Nudist Camp, N.J. 1963.”

Now living in Pensacola, Florida with her husband Chris, son Erik, two dogs and two cats, Anton said she lived in a trailer at Sunshine Park with her parents and younger brother from 1961 to 1965, when she attended Oakcrest High school.

In the summer she worked in the dining room of the family nudist resort and recalled that day in July 1963 when, “Arbus came into the dining hall and had a soda. She asked if I had a break coming up, and I said, ‘O.K.’ not thinking anything really, not that I was destined to be a hallmarked as an icon. I was almost thirteen, just at that moment of change, when I was becoming a women, and here was somebody who was actually very interesting and took an interest in me and wanted to have a photograph, and I though well, O.K., that’s cool.”

“I said, ‘Well, how do you want me?’ And she said, ‘Jut put your weight on your right leg and put your other leg forward a bit’ And then she said, ‘Just kind of look over my shoulder,’ which I did. She took maybe one or two shots, and then said thank you and we smiled and she went off.”

Then a waitress, Anton recalled her feeling like, “There were so many things that interested me in life, and so many things that I wanted to do, I really was feeling, I think that I was about to enter on a quest.”

According to Collins, “The ensuing years of Anton’s life have been, like anyone’s, mundane and extraordinary: war protests, marriage, parenthood; pottery, medieval reenactments, health problems…but the Met show has got her thinking about the golden days of Mays Landing.”

“I miss the wonderful environs of the park,” she told Collins. “It ran along the Great Egg Harbor River, a tidal river. The water was the color of root beer, from the cedar trees, and we were always finding arrowheads and axe heads and chips of flint, because the Lenni-Lenape Indians lived along those banks. There was black clay along the banks. We used to goof around and rub our legs in it and say, ‘Oh, I’m having a mud bath!’”

For Arbus, after she died she became the first American photographer honored at the prestigious Venice Biennale. Before she died she said, “Nothing is ever the same as they said it was. It’s what I’ve never seen before that I recognize. It’s important to take bad pictures. It’s the bad ones that have to do with what you’ve never done before. They can make you recognize something you hadn’t seen in a way that will make you recognize it when you see it again.”

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