10 Things You Didn’t Know About Diane Arbus


Diane Arbus was an American photographer known for capturing the rawness and vulnerability of individuals on the fringes of society. Her work delved into the world of circus performers, transgender individuals, dwarfs, and other marginalized groups, exposing a deeply human side that often goes unnoticed. While her photographs have become iconic, there are still many intriguing aspects about her life and work that remain unknown to the general public. In this article, we will uncover ten things you probably didn’t know about Diane Arbus.

1. Pivotal Exposure to Photography

Before becoming a renowned photographer herself, Diane Arbus was primarily involved in the fashion industry along with her husband, Allan Arbus. However, her interest in photography greatly influenced her as she worked under the tutelage of Lisette Model, a well-known documentary photographer. Model’s teachings had a profound impact on Arbus, exposing her to the world of street photography which later became a signature element in her own groundbreaking work.

2. Controversial Subject Matter

Arbus challenged societal norms by capturing subjects that were often considered taboo. Her work confronted topics such as mental illness, sexuality, and physical deformities, at a time when it was unusual for photographers to delve into such spaces. By photographing those on the margins of society, Arbus aimed to promote a deeper understanding and empathy for those who were often ignored or misunderstood.

3. Insecurities and Self-Portraits

Despite her ability to capture the essence of others, Arbus struggled with her own insecurities. Facing personal challenges, she turned the camera on herself and created a series of self-portraits. These deeply introspective and often haunting images provide a glimpse into her own psyche and serve as a reflection of her inner struggles. Arbus used self-portraiture as a means of exploring her own identity and opening herself up to the vulnerability she sought to capture in her subjects.

4. Influence on Contemporary Art

Arbus’s work continues to inspire and influence contemporary artists across various mediums. Her ability to capture the rawness and authenticity of humanity paved the way for modern photographers to explore unconventional subject matter. Additionally, her unique use of composition and her ability to establish a profound connection with her subjects remains an important reference for many artists today.

5. Recognition and Awards

During her lifetime, Arbus’s work earned significant recognition and numerous awards. Her images were featured in prestigious outlets such as The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), and she received grants and fellowships from institutions like the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Arbus’s contributions to the art world were acknowledged during her career, solidifying her reputation as a master photographer.

6. Artistic Evolution

Arbus’s artistic style underwent a significant evolution throughout her career. Initially trained in traditional photography, her work transitioned to a more direct and confrontational style. As time went on, she became progressively more interested in capturing the essence of her subjects, often breaking away from the traditional portrait style and emphasizing the unique qualities that made each individual stand out.

7. Influence on Fashion Photography

Arbus’s work had a profound impact on fashion photography. Her unconventional approach to capturing human beauty and vulnerability challenged the traditional notions of beauty prevalent in the industry. Photographers like Steven Meisel and Tim Walker have cited Arbus as a major influence on their own creative process, acknowledging her role in reshaping the very definition of beauty in fashion.

8. Posthumous Controversy

Following Arbus’s tragic suicide in 1971, her work faced controversy and criticism. Some argued that her photographs invaded the privacy of her subjects and exploited their vulnerabilities for artistic gain. However, others praised her ability to humanize those on the outskirts of society and provoke thought and empathy. Arbus’s legacy continues to spark debate and reflection on the ethics of photography and the portrayal of marginalized communities.

9. Discovery of Unknown Photographs

Decades after her death, a significant collection of Arbus’s previously unknown photographs was discovered. These images shed new light on her artistic process and offer glimpses into her experimentation and growth as a photographer. The discovery of these unpublished works serves as a testament to the depth and breadth of Arbus’s artistic output.

10. Lasting Legacy

Diane Arbus’s impact on the world of photography cannot be overstated. Her unique ability to capture the essence of individuals who exist outside societal norms continues to influence and inspire photographers, artists, and thinkers today. By challenging conventions and exposing the human experience in its rawest form, Arbus has left an indelible mark on the art world and continues to shape perceptions and conversations about identity, beauty, and inclusion.

In conclusion, Diane Arbus was a trailblazer in the world of photography, taking risks and delving into subjects that were unconventional and often controversial. Her ability to capture the humanity and vulnerability of individuals on the margins of society has solidified her place as one of the most renowned photographers of the 20th century. By pushing boundaries and challenging societal norms, Arbus’s work continues to inspire, provoke, and ignite conversations about the human experience.

Useful Links:
Diane Arbus Photography
Aperture Foundation