Diane Arbus - A photo of the artist at work in New York City - Image via americansuburbxcom In 1971, the view on women was put in contact with a site museum

Diane Arbus /   Diane Nemerov

United States 1923 - 1971


Diane Arbus
Diane Nemerov
United States
January 10, 2017
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Iconic for her intimate black-and-white portraits and the sudden death that shocked the world, Diane Arbus was a gifted American woman whose talent was only rivaled by her inner sorrows. She was an elite photographer of her generation, marking the time she was on this earth with some of the most awe-inspiring pieces the medium of photography has to offer to this day. Arbus shot a wide cast of characters in order to make her portraiture artworks as varied as possible. She often opted to photograph those who existed on the fringes of society and were abandoned in the margins, interested in capturing the lesser known and harsh truths that many dared not to acknowledge. For that reason, many of her subjects included the likes of dwarfs, giants, transgender people, nudists, circus performers and surreal individuals. Diane Arbus was also recognized for her brave and uncompromising approach as she would stop at nothing to get the perfect shot in line.

Diane Arbus - Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967 (detail) - Image via woman
Diane Arbus – Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967 (detail) – Image via pinterest.com

Growing Up in the Great Depression

Arbus was born Diane Nemerov on the 14th of March in the year of 1923, in the heart of New York City. Her parents were David Nemerov and Gertrude Russek, a Jewish couple who owned Russek’s, a famous and well-respected Fifth Avenue department store. Diane’s family was quite wealthy and had no trouble making ends meet even during the times of the Great Depression, effectively allowing the young girl to be completely isolated from all the harshness that was plaguing the rest of the United States in the 1930s. After David Nemerov saw fit to take a step back and retire from directly running Russek’s, he wanted to pursue an old dream and started painting, introducing a strong artistic element to his household. Additionally, Diane’s younger sister wanted to be a sculptor for the majority of her life and the two’s older brother, Howard Nemerov, would later become United States Poet Laureate. All of this played a factor in the forming of Diane’s creative personality as she was literally surrounded by all shapes and types of artistic practices as she was growing up. However, she desired to be a part of something completely her own[1], something no other member of the Nemerov family had any say or experience in.

Diane Arbus – Topless Dancer In Her Dressing Room, San Francisco, 1968 (Left) / Two Girls in Matching Bathing Suits, Coney Island, 1967 (Right) – Images via robertacucchiaro.com and pinterest.com

Becoming Diane Arbus

Diane Nemerov received her education by attending classes at the Fieldston School for Ethical Culture, a prestigious prep school. In the year of 1941, as the United States were entering the biggest human conflict in the history of war, Diane married her childhood sweetheart Allan Arbus. After the marriage was official, she took on the name that will eventually prove to be much more famous than her original name ever was – Diane Arbus. The two had a relatively happy marriage for the majority of its existence[2]. Their first daughter, Doon, was born in the year of 1945 and later become a respected writer when she entered womanhood. Diane and Allan had a second daughter as well, Amy, who was born in the year of 1954. Amy Arbus later became a photographer herself and, despite never reaching the level of recognition her mother did, was and still is an appreciated artist in her own right. For reasons never fully explained to the public, Diane and Allan Arbus separated in the year of 1959 and the divorce was finally concluded ten years after that. Despite being separated and later divorced from her husband, Diane never abandoned the surname of Arbus which remained her artistic alias for the rest of her life.

Diane Arbus - Man At A Parade On Fifth Avenue 1969 (Left) / Fat man at a carnival, MD, 1970 (Right) - Image via wikipedia.org and tate.org.uk
Diane Arbus – Man At A Parade On Fifth Avenue 1969 (Left) / Fat man at a carnival, MD, 1970 (Right) – Images via wikipedia.org and tate.org.uk

Diane & Allan Arbus Photography

During the same year that was also the time of her marriage, Diane Arbus decided to visit the gallery of Alfred Stieglitz and learn about the secrets of photography from the best masters the United States had to offer. She observed the artworks and learned from the likes of Mathew Brady, Timothy O’Sullivan, Paul Strand, Bill Brandt and Eugène Atget. Many professional photographers were hired by her father over the years as well, especially when David was promoting some new features of his store. Diane observed how they worked and was surprisingly adept to understand many aspects and factors of the master photographers whose work she observed in 1941. During this time, Allan was a photographer for the U.S. Army Signal Corps in the World War Two. Upon his return to the States, the reunited couple had a shared interest in photo making practices. Diane and Allan began a commercial photography business called Diane & Allan Arbus in the year of 1946. In the initial stages of the firm, Diane was an art director and her husband was the de facto photographer. Diane & Allan Arbus collaborated with many companies such as Glamour, Seventeen, Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar and other magazines. Interestingly, both of them have stated on many occasions that they hate fashion photography[3]. However, the works of the newly found firm were described as mediocre at best.

Diane Arbus - A young woman in curlers at home on West 20th Street, New York City, 1966 (detail) - Image via pinterest.com
Diane Arbus – A young man in curlers at home on West 20th Street, New York City, 1966 (detail) – Image via pinterest.com

Diane Arbus – A Solo Artist

During the year of 1956, Arbus quit the commercial photography business after she was discouraged from the lack of critical success, as well as wishing to belatedly pursue her own artistic goals for the first time in her life. Although Diane did study the art of camera pictures with Berenice Abbott at some point, Arbus’ studies with Lisette Model, which began in 1956, was the most crucial personal experience the aspiring artist ever had. It was the influence of Lisette Model that led Diane to her recognizable style and well-known methods. Initially, she used a 35 mm Nikon camera which produced grainy rectangular imagery. By the year of 1959, Diane was photographing on assignments for magazines such as Esquire and The Sunday Times Magazine, enjoying a stellar recognition. Somewhere around the year of 1962, Arbus switched from her beloved 35 mm Nikon camera and started using a twin-lens reflex Rolleiflex camera which produced more detailed square images. She also began using a twin-lens reflex Mamiya camera with flash in addition to the Rolleiflex. Soon after that, Dian was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship[4] for a project on The American Rites, Manners and Customs.

After she separated her artistic efforts from those of her husbands, Diane Arbus discovered an incredible gift of making sincere and courageous pieces of portraiture

Woman privacy for every woman
Diane Arbus – Mother Holding Her Child in New York, 1967 (Left) / A Child With A Toy Hand Grenade In Central Park, 1962 (Right) – Images via wikimedia.org and pinterest.com

Later Career and The Death of Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus had a very personal approach to making photos. Her methods included establishing a strong relationship with her subjects and even re-photographing some of them over the course of many years. From the moment she emancipated herself from the work of her husband, she was highly appreciated in the world of photography and even held classes at the Parsons School of Design, the Cooper Union in New York City and the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. The first major exhibition of her photos occurred at the Museum of Modern Art in an influential 1967 show titled as New Documents. Alongside the works of numerous colleagues, Diane was presented as the core of what was described as a new generation of documentary photographers. As this is often the case with many authors, Arbus’ magazine assignments decreased as her fame as an artist increased. She was not able to chase her own expression and was finally being appreciated for doing so. Using much softer light than in any of her previous projects, Diane took a series of photographs in her later years of people with intellectual disability showing a wide range of emotions. Many theories exist that state different kinds of relationships Arbus may have had with these photographs, some asserting that she adored them whilst some claiming that the author hated them. Regardless, this will prove to be the last big project of Diane’s life. She experienced what her closest friends and relatives described as depressive episodes for the bigger part of her career, a condition that was probably inherited from her mother who suffered a similar condition[5]. These episodes may have been made worse by symptoms of hepatitis. These ups-and-downs and violent changes of mood reached their peak on the 26th of July in 1971. While living in the Westbeth Artists Community in New York City, Arbus took her own life by ingesting barbiturates and subsequently slashing her wrists with a razor blade. She was 48 years of age at the time.

What many describe as being Diane Arbus’ greatest creative asset was her ability to connect with her subjects on the deepest emotional level

Would women go to view pieces at a woman privacy museum
Diane Arbus – Maria Christina Drew, New York, 1964 (Left) / Reed Buchanan in her home in New York, 1964 (Right) – Images via wikipedia.org

Posthumous Recognitions

In 1972, a year after she committed suicide, Arbus became the first photographer from the United States to have her photographs displayed at the Venice Biennale. This was, of course, done posthumously, but it never the less represents a huge milestone in the acknowledgment of the American photography. Her emotional portraits of individuals cast to the margins of society, all the homeless people, transvestites, nudists and carnival performers, all of them were finally allowed to tell their story on the global level in 1972. And the name of Arbus was echoing along every step of the way. As the case was for the majority of her career, some have seen Arbus’s work as highly controversial, some viewers were overwhelmed with a sense of compassion, while many others found her pictures bizarre and disturbing. Although we have no way of knowing this for a fact, we suppose that this was the way the author herself would have preferred it anyways. It should also be noted that in the year of 2007, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York acquired the entirety of Arbus’s archives, giving a clear cut and loud indicator of just how crucial Diane was to the modern art history of the United States.

This artist is represented by kunzt.gallery, Gagosian Park & 75 New York, Gagosian West 24th Street New York, Gagosian Beverly Hills, Gagosian Britannia Street London and Gagosian West 21st Street New York.


  1. Schultz, W. T., An Emergency in Slow Motion: The Inner Life of Diane Arbus/em>, Bloomsbury USA; First edition, 2011
  2. Arbus, D., Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph, Aperture; First Edition, 1972
  3. Bosworth, P., Diane Arbus: A Biography, W. W. Norton & Company; Revised ed. edition, 2006
  4. Arbus, D., Diane Arbus: Revelations, Random House; First Edition and Later Printing edition, 2003
  5. Lubow, A., Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer, Ecco; 1St Edition, 2016

Featured image: Diane Arbus – A photo of the artist at work in New York City – Image via americansuburbx.com
All images used for illustrative purposes only.

YearExhibition TitleGallery/MuseumSolo/Exhibition
2017The Rebellious Image Kreuzberg’s „Werkstatt für Photographie“ and the Young Folkwang Scene in the 1980Museum Folkwang, EssenGroup
2017The Big Apple - From Tycoons to RaccoonsLaurence Miller Gallery, New York City, NYGroup
2017PhotograpHERSpazio Contemporanea, BresciaGroup
2016Diane Arbus- In the beginningThe Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City, NYSolo
2016American PortraitsNational Gallery of Australia, Canberra, ACTSolo
2014Diane Arbus - Masterpieces & Curiosities: Diane Arbus's Jewish GiantThe Jewish Museum, New York City, NYSolo
2013 Une Affaire De Famille - La Photographie Dans Les Collections De Stephane, Rodolphe Et Sebastien Janssen - Museé de la photographie de Charleroi, CharleroiGroup
2013The Unphotographable Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, CAGroup
2013The Time is Now John Berggruen Gallery, San Francisco, CAGroup
2013Light Sensitive Nasher Museum of Art, Durham, NCGroup
2013 Dark Blue The Water as Protagonist Haggerty Museum of Art, Milwaukee, WIGroup
2012Through the Looking Glass, me Collectors Room, Berlin, GermanyGroup
2012September 11, P.S.1. MoMa, New York, USAGroup
2012Diane Arbus: Affinities, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London, UKSolo
2012Diane Arbus, Fotomuseum Winterthur, GermanySolo
2012Diane Arbus, Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, GermanySolo
2012Another story. 1000 Photographs from the Moderna Museet Collection, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, SwedenGroup
2011–2012PHOTOGRAPHY CALLING! Fotografie und Gegenwart, Sprengel Museum Hannover, Hannover, GermanyGroup
2011Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, USAGroup
2011Diane Arbus: People and Other Singularities, Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills, USASolo
2011Diane Arbus, Peder Lund, Oslo, Norway Solo
2011Diane Arbus Retrospective, Jeu de Paume, Paris, France; Fotomuseum, Winterthur, Zurich, Swtizerland; Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, Germany; FOAM, Amsterdam,HollandSolo
2011Artists Rooms, Tate Modern, London, GBSolo
2010The Sum of Myself: Photographic Self-Portraits from the Audrey and Sydney Irmas Collection, Los Angeles County Museum of Art , LACMA, Los AngelesGroup
2010Private Eyes, la Colección de Laurence Miller, Sala Municipal de San Benito, Valladolid, SpainGroup
2010Picturing New York: Photographs from The Museum of Modern Art, IMMA, Irish Museum of Modern Art, Dublin, IrelandGroup
2010Masters of Photography, Fifty One Fine Art Photography, Antwerpen, BelgiumGroup
2010Face to Face: 150 Years of Photographic Portraiture, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix and CCP Center for Creative Photography, Tucson, USAGroup
2010elles@centrepompidou, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, FranceGroup
2010Diane Arbus: In the Absence of Others,Cheim & Reid, New York, NY Solo
2010Diane Arbus: Christ in a lobby and Other Unknown or Almost Known Works Selected by Robert Gober, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, CA Solo
201075 Years of Looking Forward: Focus on Artists, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CAGroup
2009The White Under The Red, Galerie Metro, Berlin, GermanyGroup
2009The Female Gaze: Women Look at Women, Cheim & Read, New York, NYGroup
2009The Fallen Angels, Watarium Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokio, JapanGroup
2009Street & Studio, Museum Folkwang, Essen, GermanyGroup
2009Seventies, le choc de la photographie américaine, BNF – Bibliothèque National de France, Paris, FranceGroup
2009Sander's Children, Danziger Projects, New YorkGroup
2009New at the Morgan: Acquisitions Since 2004, The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, NYGroup
2009Diane Arbus, Timothy Taylor Gallery, London, UK Solo
2009BIG CITY, Wien Museum, Vienna, AustriaGroup
2009Artist Rooms: Diane Arbus, National Museum, Cardiff, UKSolo
2009 1968. Die große Unschuld, Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Bielefeld, GermanyGroup
2008–2009Le Choc de la Photographie Americaine, Bibliotheque Nationale de France, Paris, FranceGroup
2008–2009Diane Arbus: A Printed Retrospective, 1960-1971, Curated by Pierre Leguillon, Kadist Art Foundation, Paris, FranceSolo
2008Times Square, Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2008Street & Studio: An Urban History of Photography, Tate Modern, LondonGroup
2008People, Jim Kempner Fine Art, New York, NYGroup
2008New York at Night: Photographs from the Collection, MoMA – The Museum of Modern Art, New YorkGroup
2008Female Trouble, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, GermanyGroup
2008Diane Arbus, Neil Selkirk, Camera Work, Berlin, GermanyGroup
2008Arbus, Avedon, Sander, Pace, MacGill Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2007Something Was There: Early Work by Diane Arbus, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, CASolo
2007Second View, Kloster Unser Lieben Frauen, Magdeburg, GermanyGroup
2007NEW YORK, NY, Fifty One Fine Art Photography, Antwerpen, BelgiumGroup
2007June Bride, Yossi Milo Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2007Diane Arbus, Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne, GermanySolo
2007Diane Arbus - Helen Levitt: A Conversation, Laurence Miller Gallery, New YorkGroup
2007Americans, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna, AustriaGroup
2007All the More Real, Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NYGroup
2007A Fine Collection, A Gallery for Fine Photography, New Orleans,
LA Solo
2006UntitledBiennale Internazionale di Fotografia di Brescia, ItalyGroup
2006The Street: Pioneers of 20th-Century Photography, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsGroup
2006The photographs of Diane Arbus, Gold Coast City Art Gallery, AustraliaSolo
2006The Construction of the Other, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, BelgiumGroup
2006Recent Acquisitions: New York Street Photography from the 1960s and 1970s, (16 Diane Arbus Coney Island photographs) New York Public Library, New York, NYGroup
2006Eye of the Beholder: Photographs from the Collection of Richard Avedon, Pace MacGill Gallery, New York, NY; Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, CAGroup
2006Das Achte Feld The Eight Square, Museum Ludwig Cologne, GermanyGroup
2005Set Up: Recent Acquisitions in Photography, Whitney Museum of American Art, New YorkGroup
2005Reinstallation of The Museum of Modern Art's Collection, MoMA – The Museum of Modern Art, New YorkGroup
2005Photographing the Museum, Yancey Richardson Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2005Family Albums, Reynolda House Museum of American Art, Winston-Salem, USA Portland Art Museum, Portland, USASolo
2005Diane Arbus: Other Faces, Other Rooms, Robert Miller Gallery, New York, NY
2005Diane Arbus, Gallery Koyanagi, Portland, ORSolo
2005Bilanz in zwei Akten, Kunstverein Hannover, Hannover, GermanyGroup
2004–2005Diane Arbus: Family Albums, Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, South Hadley, MA; Grey Art Gallery, New York, NY; Portland Art Museum, Portland, ME; Spencer Museum of Art, Lawrence, KS Solo
2004Photography Until Now; Museum of Modern Art, New York (auch im Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, Ohio)Group
2004Photographers of Genius, Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CAGroup
2004 On the Art of Fixing a Shadow: One Hundred and Fifty Years of Photography; National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. und Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois (auch im Los Angeles County Museum of Art)Group
2004Menschenbilder, Galerie Thomas Zander, Cologne, GermanyGroup
2004Ghost Stories: The Disembodied Spirit, Austin Museum of Art, Austin, TXGroup
2004Female Identities? Künstlerinnen der Sammlung Goetz, Weserburg I Museum für Moderne Kunst, Bremen, GermanyGroup
2004Family Albums, Portland Museum of Art, Portland, USA, Grey Art Gallery, New York University Solo
2003–2006Diane Arbus: Revelations, (200 photographs and supplementary ephemera), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, CA; Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX; The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Museum Folkwang, Essen, Germany; Victoria and Albert Museum, London, UK; Fundació la Caixa, Barcelona, Spain; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MNSolo
2003–2004Cruel and Tender, Tate Modern, London; Museum Ludwig, Cologne, GermanyGroup
2003–2004A Clear Vision, Deichtorhallen, Hamburg, GermanyGroup
2003Pictures from Within, Whitney Museum, New York, NYGroup
2003Gogh Modern, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam, The NetherlandsGroup
2003Flesh Tones, Robert Mann Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2003Diane Arbus, De Hallen, Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, Niederlande 1972 Solo
2002–2005Eye to Eye, Groninger Museum, Holland, The NetherlandsGroup
2002American Standard: (Para) Normality and Everyday Life, Barbara Gladstone Gallery, New York, NYGroup
2001–2002Untitled: Diane Arbus,J. Johnson Gallery, Jacksonville, FLGroup
2001Voice, Image, Gesture: Selections from The Jewish Museum’s Collection, 1945 – 2000, The Jewish Museum, New York, NYGroup
2001Homage to the Square: Picturing Washington Square, 1890-1865, Berry-Hill Galleries, Inc., New York, NYGroup
2001Diane Arbus: A Box of Ten Photographs, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, CA Solo
2000–2001Diane Arbus: Untitled 1969-1971, Galerie Karsten Greve, Cologne, Germany Solo
2000Galerie Rodolphe Janssen, Brussels, BelgiumSolo
1997Diane Arbus: Women, Galleria Photology, Milan, ItalySolo
1996–1997Diane Arbus: Women, Robert Miller Gallery, New York, NYSolo
1996Untitled: Diane Arbus, Pace Wildenstein, Los Angeles, CASolo
1995The Movies: Photographs from 1956 to 1958, Robert Miller Gallery, New York, NYSolo
1992Diane Arbus: Untitled 1970-71, Jan Kesner Gallery, Los Angeles, CASolo
1991Diane Arbus: Untitled 1970-71, Robert Miller Gallery, New York, NY Solo
1991Diane Arbus: Photographs, Edwynn Houk Gallery, Chicago, IL Solo
1977Mirrors and Windows: American Photography since 1960; Museum of Modern Art; New YorkGroup
1972Retrospective, Museum of Modern Art, New YorkSolo
1971Venice Biennale, ItalyVenice Biennale, ItalyGroup
1971Contemporary Photographs I; Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MassachusettsGroup
1969Thirteen Photographers; Pratt Institute, Brooklyn, New YorkGroup
1969New Photography U.S.A., Museum of Modern Art, New YorkGroup
1969Human Concern, Personal Torment: The Grotesque in American Art;Whitney Museum of American Art, New YorkGroup
196910 Photographers; U.S. Pavilion, Japan World Exhibition, Osaka, JapanGroup
1967New Documents: Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand; Museum of Modern Art; New YorkGroup
1965Recent Acquisitions: Photography; Museum of Modern Art, New York, New York; School of Fine Arts, University of WisconsinGroup
1965Invitational Exhibition: 10 American Photographers MilwaukeeGroup
1955The Family of Man (with Allan Arbus), Museum of Modern Art, New York, New YorkGroup