Diane Arbus was born Diane Nemerov in New York City on March 14, 1923. The Arbus family lived in Central Park West, supported by her father, who owned a department store on 5th Avenue (Wolf). Even from the beginning, Arbus was destined to go “against the grain.” When she was 14 she met Allan Arbus, whom she married four years later against her parents’ wishes (Ironman).
Allan began teaching Diane about photography shortly after they were married. During WWII, he was trained at the Signal Corps photography school at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. After the war, Diane and Allan worked together as photographers in the fashion industry. Diane’s work was noted with high regard as being innovative and artistic, different ideas for a fashion photographer (Ironman).
In 1957, she began to work independently of her husband, and as their professional relationship began to teeter, so did their marriage. They separated in 1959. This was an important year for Arbus, for also in ‘59 she began to study photography with Lisette Model. She then broke away from fashion photography to pursue new subject matter, including transvestites and patients of asylums -- those whom society calls “freaks” (Ironman).
"Freaks was a thing I photographed a lot. It was one of the first things I photographed and it had a terrific kind of excitement for me. I just used to adore them. I still do adore some of them. I don't quite mean they're my best friends but they made me feel a mixture of shame and awe. There's a quality of legend about freaks. Like a person in a fairy tale who stops you and demands that you answer a riddle. Most people go through life dreading they'll have a traumatic experience. Freaks were born with their trauma. They've already passed their test in life. They're aristocrats .” (Diane Arbus)
In 1963, Arbus received the prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship, and the following year held her first exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art. Two years later, in 1966, she once again was honored with the Guggenheim Fellowship, and her work appeared in the 1967 “New Documents” photography show at the Museum of Modern Art. After that exhibit, she began teaching at the Parsons School of Design in New York and Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. In 1969, she divorced Allan Arbus (Ironman).
Perhaps instead of dreading her own trauma, Arbus was waiting for it. In July of 1971, she took her own life by overdosing on barbiturates and slitting her wrists. In 1972, posthumously, she was the first American photographer to be exhibited at the Venice Biennale. In 1984, Diane Arbus: Magazine Work was published (Ironman).
She is survived by her daughter, Doone Arbus.
Arbus, Diane. Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph. New York, NY: Aperture Foundation, Inc. 1972.
Bosworth, Patricia. Diane Arbus: A Biography. New York, NY: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. 1984.
Ironman, Sara. The Photography of Diane Arbus: Biography. http://www.temple.edu/photo/photographers/arbus/arbusbio.html
Diane Arbus: Magazine Work. New York, NY: Aperture Foundation, Inc. 1984.
Wolf, Matt. Diane Arbus: Background. http://www.concentric.net/~mpwolf/dianearbus/background