--born Diane Nemerov in New York City in 1923--married Allan Arbus at the age of eighteen. She started taking pictures in the early 1940's and studied photography with Berenice Abbott in the late 1940's and with Alexey Brodovitch in the mid 1950's. It was Lisette Model's photographic workshops, however, that inspired her, around 1957, to begin seriously pursuing the work for which she has come to be known.
Her first published photographs appeared in Esquire
in 1960. During the next decade, working for Esquire
, Harper's Bazaar
, and other major magazines, she published more than a hundred pictures, including portraits and photographic essays, many of which originated as personal projects, occasionally accompanied by her own writing. Diane Arbus: Magazine Work
(Aperture, 1984) documents this aspect of her career and its relationship to her best-known imagery.
In 1963 and 1966 she was awarded Guggenheim Fellowships for her project on "American Rites, Manners, and Customs." She traveled across the country, photographing the people, places, and events she described as "the considerable ceremonies of our present These are our symptoms and our monuments," she wrote. "I want simply to save them, for what is ceremonious and curious and commonplace will be legendary."
A selected group of these photographs attracted a great deal of critical and popular attention when they were featured, along wit the work of two other photographers, in the Museum of Modern Art's 1967 exhibition "New Documents." The boldness of her subject matter and photographic approach were recognized as revolutionary.
In the late 1960's, Arbus taught photography at Parsons School of Design, the Rhode Island School of Design, and Cooper Union, and continued to make photographs. Notable among her late works is a series of photographs she took at residences for the mentally retarded. Untitled
(Aperture, 1995) is a collection of fifty-one of these photographs. "The extraordinary power of Untitled
confirms our earliest impression of Arbus's work," wrote Hilton Als in the New Yorker
. "It is as iconographic as it gets in any medium. These pictures are purely ecstatic."
In 1970, Arbus made a portfolio of ten prints, which was intended to be the first in a series of limited editions of her work. She committed suicide in July of 1971. In the years following her death and the Museum of Modern Art's posthumous retrospective--which was seen by more than a quarter of a million people before it began its three-year tour of the United States and Canada--exhibitions devoted exclusively to her work have been mounted throughout Western Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. To this day critics continue to debate the meaning of her photographs and the intentions behind them. Their indelible imprint on our visual experience has long been established beyond dispute.