Diane Arbus
Photo: Roz Kelly/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Diane Arbus

Biography
(1923–1971)
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Photographer Diane Arbus' distinctive portraits showed the world how crazy (and beautiful) New Yorkers were in the 1950s and '60s.

Who Was Diane Arbus?

An artistic youth, Diane Arbus learned photography from her husband, actor Allan Arbus. Together, they found success with fashion work, but Diane soon branched out on her own. Her raw, unusual images of the people she saw while living in New York created a unique and interesting portrayal of the city. She committed suicide in New York City in 1971.

Early Life

Born Diane Nemerov on March 14, 1923, in New York City, Arbus was one of the most distinctive photographers of the 20th century, known for her eerie portraits and off-beat subjects. Her artistic talents emerged at a young age, having created interesting drawings and paintings while in high school. In 1941, she married Allan Arbus, an American actor who fostered her artistic talent by teaching her photography.

Unique Photography

Working with her husband, Arbus started out in advertising and fashion photography. She and Allan became quite a successful team, with photographs appearing in such magazines as Vogue. In the late 1950s, she began to focus on her own photography. To further her art, Arbus studied with photographer Lisette Model around this time.

During her wanderings around New York City, Arbus began to pursue taking photographs of people she found. She visited seedy hotels, public parks, a morgue and other various locales. These unusual images had a raw quality, and several of them found their way into the July 1960 issue of Esquire magazine. These photographs proved to be a spring board for future work.

By the mid-1960s, Arbus had become a well-established photographer, participating in shows at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, among other places. She was known for going to great lengths to get the shots she wanted. She became friends with many other famous photographers, including Richard Avedon and Walker Evans.

Death

While professionally continuing to thrive in the late 1960s, Arbus had some personal challenges. Her marriage ended in 1969, and she later struggled with depression. She committed suicide in her New York City apartment on July 26, 1971. Her work remains a subject of intense interest, and her life was the basis of the 2006 film Fur, starring Nicole Kidman as Arbus.

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