Born in New York to a wealthy family, Diane thought the wealth to be “humiliating”. Anxious to leave this type of lifestyle, she married Allan Arbus when she was only 18. During World War II, Allan was trained as a photographer in the Signal Corps, and it was Allan who introduced his wife to photography.
After the war, the couple began to work together in fashion photography when Diane’s father asked them to produce advertising for his department store. Their work eventually appeared in magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar.
I really think there are things nobody would see unless I photographed them.
Diane pursued photography and began to study under Lisette Model. Model quickly recognized her student’s keen instincts as a documentary photographer. Her documentary eye and search for personal, inner wealth created the shocking and intriguing images of asylum inmates, midgets, nudists, drug-addicts and transvestites. She sought the adversity of the people on the “fringes of society”. Arbus recorded these subjects in sharp focus, with their gaze looking directly into the camera. She attracted immediate attention with her “new documents” and was awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship in 1963 and 1966.
She dared to photograph what people were not willing to look at and acknowledge; she made us look. During the height of her success in 1971, she took her own life. Critics have observed that we see Arbus’ work more with our minds than with our eyes. Her images of society’s outcasts frequently push the boundaries of what is considered “tasteful” and “proper”, and continue to challenge the viewer today.