Diane Arbus: the Photographer of the Forbidden


Diane Bush She was an American photographer considered one of the best and most authentic photographers of the 20th century. She was the photographer of the underprivileged, famous for her striking images of people who are marginal, peculiar or otherwise out of the ordinary.

Expert in looking and capturing where others look away, Diane Arbus was a unique and essential photographer, who has inspired numerous renowned photographers and has impacted in one way or another anyone who has peeked into her world.

Do you want to know her in depth? Let’s start at the beginning, who was Diane Arbus?


Diane Nemerov was born in New York into a wealthy Jewish family on March 14, 1923. Thanks to the family business, she has been in contact with fashion since she was young. At the age of 18 she marries Allan Arbus with whom she will have two daughters: Doon and Amy Arbus and from whom she will receive her last name, renamed Diane Bush.

She learns photography from her husband and they open a studio together (Diane & Allan Arbus), working for fashion magazines such as Esquire, Vogue, or Harper’s Bazaar.

Thanks to her work she receives two scholarships from the Guggenheim Foundation to be able to continue developing as a photographer. Another of the episodes that will define her career is studying with the photographer Lisette Model, from whom she learned new ways of looking and technically improving her photographs.

Berenice Abbott, Robert Frank or Alex Brodovitch are other photographers who influenced her style.

In 1959 she separated from her husband, which caused her great devastation but at the same time this traumatic event improved her photographic style. She decides to leave the world of fashion and dedicates herself to photographing people from the slums of New York, looking for people with unconventional appearance: with dwarfism, taller than normal, twins, transvestites, transsexuals, nudists, prostitutes, etc.

In 1971, after suffering numerous episodes of depression, he committed suicide in New York at the age of 48.

Featured episodes in the work of Diane Arbus

Guggenheim FellowshipRobert Leavitt Award The National Library of France acquires part of his worksRetrospective in 1972 at MoMA in New YorkFirst photographer to exhibit at the Venice Biennale

Artwork by Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus’s work is mainly known for the photographs of marginalized or peculiar people in some way, the freaks, as she herself calls them. Although she is trained in fashion photography, it is in this second stage, where she develops her most personal style.

Diane Arbus’s photographs are easily recognizable, since they do not leave the viewer indifferent, much less in the historical moment in which they were made. They are raw and direct photographs that force us to look in places where many times the rest avert their eyes.

I tend to think of the act of photography, generally speaking, as an adventure. My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.

Diane Bush

Characteristics of the works of Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus’s work has a very marked style, not only because of the type of protagonists she chooses for her work, but also because of the way she portrays them. Her photographs are very direct and with few artifices.

Often the protagonist is placed in the central part of the frame, looking directly at the camera and, therefore, at the viewer. He also often uses fill flash to portray his protagonists, and always uses black and white.

Diane’s photographs portray the soul of those she photographs. If you look at them carefully, you will see that she hides a deep beauty in them.

First stage

It is her initiation stage, she focuses on fashion photography with her husband, first for the family business and later they start working with famous fashion magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar or Esquire.

Tired, according to her, of the superficiality of the world of fashion and with the trigger of their separation, Diane focuses on a new stage.

Second stage of the work of Diane Arbus

This second stage begins after their separation and is highly influenced by the movie Freaks, a film that caused a stir in society at the time and was very influential for Diane.

In Freaks, the protagonists are the monster people with malformations of all kinds. But the real evil lies in the normal human being. In him we find the real monster. This film had a great influence on his way of conceiving photography.

In this phase of the 60s, Diane Arbus generates what will be her most emblematic and recognized photographs. She wanders, camera in hand, through the streets of New York, through its most marginalized and dangerous neighborhoods, portraying the most disadvantaged or marginalized people.

He enters their homes, mixes with them, knows them and portrays them in a direct and courageous way. In his own words, she likes to be where he has never been, she cannot conceive of creating something that she already knows.

His photographs therefore focus on slums, morgues, traveling circuses, but also people on the streets of New York. Diane is able to bring out that weird, or different, part of even physically or emotionally normative people.

grenade boy diane arbus
man curlers diane arbus
man diane arbus
portrait woman diane arbus
sword girl diane arbus
giant diane arbus
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

Third stage of the work of Diane Arbus

In this last stage of her photographic career, Diane dedicated herself to portraying patients in various mental institutions.

As you can see, Diane always seeks that look on camera, she wants the protagonists to be aware of being portrayed, and capture the bond that is established between them at that moment.

women hat diane arbus
black and white people
ghost diane arbus
diane arbus games
© The Estate of Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus’s photos do not leave anyone indifferent, they generate reactions of all kinds in the viewer. There are those who are scared, fascinated, angry or moved. They seem beautiful or horrifying to us, they embarrass us, or they fascinate us, they trap us or repel us… Or all at the same time.

Documentary about Diane Arbus

In 1972, just one year after her death, this documentary is published, an essential work that collects Diane Arbus’s own words thanks to the recordings preserved from one of her classes.

Narrated by one of her daughters, with contributions from Lisette Model herself, Marvin Israel or John Szarkowsky (the director of MoMA).

An essential documentary to learn more about this emblematic photographer.

Masters of Photography: Diane Arbus

Books By Diane Arbus

As strange as it may seem, there is not much bibliography on the work of Diane Arbus. It seems that her legacy has been faithfully protected by her daughters and they have not used it for profit in any way.

However, there are, luckily, some very interesting compilations of his works:

Diane Arbus book

Diane Bush: It is the essential book of her work, in whose creation her own daughter Doon and the painter Marvin Israel are involved, and which wants to be the faithful portrait of the author’s work. You can buy it for €54.30

Untitled by Diane Arbus

Untitled: It is based on the photographs he took in various mental institutions in the last stage of his work. You can get it for €66.68

Diane Arbus Magazine Work

Diane Arbus Magazine Work: Collect part of his work for fashion editorials. You can get it for €53.35

Diane Arbus a Biography

Diane Arbus to Biography: If you want to get to know Arbus in depth, this biography may be a good way to do it. You can get it for €18.47

Diane Bush Quote

And so far the work of this fascinating 20th century photographer, an immortal and timeless artist who invites us to reflect, who moves and stirs us and who should be part of our photographic culture.

What did you think of this author? Interesting, right? Dare to share this article with all those people you think may be interested in knowing it. Thank you and see you next time.

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