Diane Arbus Biography


Birthday: March 14, 1923 (Pisces)

Born In: Manhattan, New York, United States

Diane Arbus was an American photographer who was renowned for her eerie black and white photographs. She brought out revolution in black and white photography by taking pictures of abnormal people, eccentrics, and street performers. She moved closely with the people whom she decided to photograph so that she could make them pose the exact expression that she wanted. She pursued the psychological and the private realities of life and her pictures have a penetrating impact over the onlookers. She belonged to an affluent family and was brought up as a “darling,” but she looked for a different aspect in life and was captivated by uncommon people with weird or complex outlook or behavior and by people who belonged to the lower strata of society. Even in the world of fashion and children photography, she was miles apart from conventional methods. She was a professional photographer for famed magazines like Harper’s Bazaar, Esquire, and The Sunday Times Magazine. She continued her friendly relations with her husband even after their separation, but inwardly she found it hard to battle over the solitude and her health issues that prompted her to commit suicide at the age of 48. Just like her personality, her private life remained a subject of interest and resulted in the filming of her life that was released with the title, “Fur,” in which Nicole Kidman played the role of Arbus.
Quick Facts

Also Known As: Diane Nemerov

Died At Age: 48


Spouse/Ex-: Allan Arbus

father: David Nemerov

mother: Gertrude Russek

siblings: Howard Nemerov

children: Amy Arbus, Doon Arbus

Quotes By Diane Arbus American Women

Died on: July 26, 1971

place of death: Westbeth Artists Housing, New York, United States

U.S. State: New Yorkers

Cause of Death: Suicide

  • 1

    What is Diane Arbus known for?

    Diane Arbus was known for her unique and controversial style of photography, which often focused on marginalized and unconventional subjects.
  • 2

    Why is Diane Arbus considered a pioneer in photography?

    Diane Arbus is considered a pioneer in photography for her groundbreaking approach to capturing subjects that were typically overlooked or deemed unconventional by society.
  • 3

    What impact did Diane Arbus have on the art world?

    Diane Arbus had a significant impact on the art world by challenging traditional notions of beauty and normalcy through her thought-provoking and often unsettling photographs.
  • 4

    How did Diane Arbus approach her subjects?

    Diane Arbus approached her subjects with empathy and a deep sense of curiosity, often forming personal connections with them to capture their raw and authentic selves.
  • 5

    What is the significance of Diane Arbus' work in contemporary photography?

    Diane Arbus' work continues to be highly influential in contemporary photography for its bold exploration of human diversity and the boundaries of societal norms.
Childhood & Early Life
Diane Arbus was born as Diane Nemerov in New York City in a rich Jewish family. Her father David Nemerov and her mother Gertrude owned a departmental store named “Russek's".
She was the second of the three children of the Nemerovs. Her elder brother Howard Nemerov later became the United States Poet Laureate and her younger sister Renee became an eminent designer and sculptor.
Both Diane and her siblings were educated at Ethical Culture School and the Fieldston School in Manhattan. Since her family was rich, they were unaffected by the Great Depression of the 1930s.
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Her husband Allan was her first teacher to teach photography. In 1946, she started her career as a photographer and worked in the advertisement section of her father’s store along with her husband.
Later along with her husband, she started her own commercial photography business and started undertaking assignments for clothing fashions. Diane took care of the costume and makeup of the model whereas Allan photographed.
Their unconventional style of photography attracted the people and they gained name and fame as fashion photographers. They got assignments from renowned fashion magazines like "Harper's Bazaar" and "Vogue."
Diane was not happy with her secondary role and she wanted to learn professional photography. In 1957, she left her husband’s business and enrolled in the workshop of Alexey Brodovitch.
In 1958, she started taking photographic classes from Lisette Model’s New School, where she learnt professional photography. The influence of Model can be felt in her later creations.
Impressed by her photographs, The Esquire magazine entrusted her with a photo assignment on the nightlife of New York. Her work titled “The Vertical Journey” was published in the magazine in 1960.
Meanwhile, she got acquainted to Marvin Israel, her second mentor who introduced her to influential people. In 1961, she became the art director of Harper’s Bazaar and also started to publish her pictures.
In 1962, she was influenced by the work of John Szarkowski, who became the curator of photography at MOMA. This made her move from 35mm camera to a specialized one producing square shaped images.
In 1963, she was offered Guggenheim Fellowship for working on "American rites, manners, and customs." To work on the project, she got involved in photographing a nudist camp for the first time.
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In late 1960s, she taught photography in Parsons School of Design, Cooper Union, and Rhode Island School of Design. Simultaneously, she published her pictures in magazines like Sunday Times Magazine, Esquire, and Harper’s Bazaar.
In 1969, she was legally separated from her husband Allan. Even after their separation their friendship continued but Diane who was depressed and sick with hepatitis committed suicide two years later in her apartment.
Major Works
Her photograph “Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park” captivated the viewers. When a copy of the photograph was auctioned in 2005, it was sold for $408,000.
Her photograph, “Identical Twins” was chosen as the cover image of the photography book “Diane Arbus,” published in 1972. The book made a record sale as one of the best-selling photography books.
Awards & Achievements
Her non-commercial pictures of a couple on a park bench, a young Republican, and identical twin girls revolutionized the photographic style. She was offered Guggenheim Fellowships in 1963 and three years later the fellowship was renewed.
In 1970, she won the Robert Levitt Award from the American Society of Magazine Photographers for outstanding achievement.
Personal Life & Legacy
While she was thirteen, she got acquainted to Allan Arbus who was nineteen years old and fell in love with him. Allan was working in the advertisement department of her family store.
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Though her parents initially objected to the affair, Diane continued to meet Allan secretly. In 1941, Allan and Diane were married with the help of a rabbi and the marriage was accepted by the elders.
The couple was blessed with two daughters named Doon and Amy who were interested in fashion photography. Later Doon became famous as a writer and Amy as a fashion photographer.
They lived separately for some years and were divorced in 1969. Diane became depressed due to illness and loneliness and committed suicide in her apartment in New York City.
In 1972, her monograph titled, "Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph" edited and designed by her friend and painter Marvin Israel and daughter Doon Arbus was published. This was published in five languages.
Facts About Diane Arbus
Diane Arbus was known for her unique approach to photography, focusing on marginalized and unconventional subjects such as circus performers, dwarfs, and transgender individuals.
Despite facing criticism for her controversial subjects, Arbus remained dedicated to capturing the essence of humanity in all its forms, challenging societal norms through her work.
Arbus's keen eye for capturing raw emotion and vulnerability in her subjects set her apart as a groundbreaking photographer in the 20th century art world.
She had a deep curiosity about people and their stories, which fueled her passion for exploring the fringes of society through her lens.
Arbus's legacy continues to inspire contemporary photographers to push boundaries and challenge perceptions through their own artistic expressions.

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