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Arbus: A Photography Legend

Diane Arbus was an amazing photographer with an essential voice to her era. She has capture things that no one else has been able to; she’s gone places no one else has even dared to go and photographed the fringes of society in a depression. Diane Arbus was one of the most adventurous fairy-tale like human beings I have ever read about. When I saw that an article and documentary was up about her, I jumped at the chance to write this, she has been a heroine of mine since I was fourteen and first discovered her in my first black and white photography class.

Diane grew up with rich parents, the founders of Russek’s fur company and great lovers of the horse track. She married Allan Arbus at 18, didn’t attend college, and worked with him in commercial photography. Diane raised two daughters and quickly felt trapped in her life of fashion and advertising.
Not a lot is really known about Diane Arbus’ life verbatim, there have been many myths created around her life. A couple years back there was a documentary or well movie produced with Nicole Kidman as the star. It was absolutely atrocious and was mostly just inspired by her life. Her daughter Grace is actually rumored to have pulled it out of the theaters as soon as possible, since nothing in it was of any factual information. Another biography, mentioned in the “Where Diane Arbus Went” article, by Patricia Bosworth is also just a series of guesses and theories on Diane’s life and doesn’t provide any insight on her photography. Recently Diane’s exhibition “Retrospective” has been touring, and was actually at the Walker Art Center a couple of years ago, tries to clear up some of these myths. The exhibition was huge and provided all her diaries, notes, enlargers and all her cameras.

In the documentary, Diane Arbus from the Masters of Photography, Diane’s photographs are presented with a good friend reading over them a speech she had given a year before she committed suicide. Diane not only was a great photographer, but also a writer. Her friends cherished the letters she wrote to them, and a lot of her work included her writing next to it. She also kept an extensive diary of her day-to-day life, and the experiences and adventures she had. Diane’s described as a woman of piercing intelligence and great sophistication, and I think her writing and the way she speaks really demonstrates this.

Diane was well known for her photographs of the fringes of society, of freaks, homosexuals, what the 1950’s found to be unusual. She had a strong voice for her period, and was said to be an essential part to her era. From the article provided, people from the era said that her photographs were shocking. There’s this great description of her work, “A single Arbus photograph will finger delicately the ticking moments of a fantastic encounter in a room that never sees sunlight, and will also find there the spectacle of America flung forward by it’s gargantuan dreams, and see in this how bloated and fragile the country has become”.

She was influenced by the greats. Weegee was a big one, which is obvious with his crime photography he had captured many adventures that probably inspired Arbus. Also Angus Sander and Walker Evans. She even got to work with Gary Winogard and another personal favorite Lee Friedlander.

It’s hard to tackle everything about Diane Arbus in a couple of photographs; her life was full of adventures and wisdom. She’s said to have killed herself in 1971, but once again there are so many myths to what really happened. Her mysterious life intrigues me, and fascinates me. Her work is amazing, and to listen and read what she has to say she’s so real and down to earth, she’s a true inspiration and an essential voice for the world of photography.


It seems that most famous or well known people in society have myths and guesses made up about them. Unfortunately those myths can hurt other people involved, like family. In Diana Arbus’ case it seems that has been a big issue. Too many times she has been taken the wrong way like in the instance of the movie about her. I think that it’s sad because it upset her daughter enough to try to pull the movie out of theaters. What ever happened to responsible journalism? With Arbus’ photos she took pictures of the “strange” like homosexuals and freaks, but she did this because they intrigued her, it wasn’t to mock them. Some think that she was mocking them and making fun of them but she photographed them because they were new to her and she didn’t understand them, so she tried to know them and do justice to them. For her to jump out on a limb, like in her 1950’s photography, I think, this makes her very unique, smart, and talented. It’s good to know that recently at the Walker Art Center the myths about this talented woman are trying to be sorted out with some of her actual writing and supplies that she used to go to new heights.