Diane Arbus

1963 - US & Canada Competition
Creative Arts - Photography


Diane Arbus, distinguished American photographer, was born in New York City in 1923 to a wealthy Jewish family.  She married her husband, future actor Allan Arbus, in 1941 soon after turning eighteen.  Mr. Arbus was training to be a photographer for the U.S. Army, and he and Diane began to collaborate in the medium, finding success in the fashion photography world.   In 1955 Ms. Arbus began studying photography with Lisette Model at the New School for Social Research, and a photograph taken by the Arbus couple was included in Edward Steichen’s famous exhibition The Family of Man at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.  Ms. Arbus divorced her husband in 1959, and began studying with Richard Avedon and Alexey Brodovitch, art director of Harper’s Bazaar.   Ms. Arbus embarked on a serious career as a photojournalist in 1960 for several well-known publications, including work she produced for eighteen separate articles featured in Esquire.   Ms. Arbus was awarded a Fellowship in 1963 to devote herself to a photographic series based on American ceremony and ritual, and received a renewal of the Fellowship in 1966. She continued to build on a groundbreaking body of work throughout the 1960s, which included documentations of urban life and eerie portraits of midgets, transvestites, and other outsiders.   She also taught as a photography instructor at the Parsons School of Design, Cooper Union, and the Rhode Island School of Design.  In 1971, at the height of a successful career, she committed suicide.    She was honored for her work at the Venice Biennale, the first American photographer to be included in the prestigious international exhibition, just months after her death. 

Ms. Arbus is considered one of the most influential American photographers of the twentieth century, renowned for her uncanny, intrusive photographs of actors, artists, and other noted figures, and particularly for her arresting portraits of twins, drag queens, mental patients, and others living on the edges of society.  During her lifetime her photography was highlighted in Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, the New York Times Magazine, and the Sunday Times Magazine, among other publications.  Her work was featured in several prominent exhibitions, including the 1967 exhibition New Documents at the Museum of Modern Art.   A retrospective devoted to Ms. Arbus was held at the museum in 1972, a year after her death.   Aperture published a catalogue of her work the same year to accompany the exhibition, which has sold over twelve million copies to date.  Her work is held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. 

For more information on the life and work of Diane Arbus:

Photography Now

The Jewish Virtual Library

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