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Diane Arbus

Biography of Diane Arbus
by

Yusra Chandler

on 4 January 2013

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Transcript of Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus “My favourite thing to do is to go where I’ve never been.” – Diane Arbus Diane Arbus, best known for her direct, stark, black and white portraits of human oddities, was born as Diane Nemerov in New York, New York on March 14th, 1923. She grew up with her older brother, Howard Nemerov who was a famous poet and younger sister Renee Nemerov, who later became a sculptor. Diane grew up assisting her parents at their fashionable fifth avenue fur and clothing store called Russeks. Her and her family lived on Central park west, where she attended Ethical culture and Fieldstone schools. When asked about her upbringing she responded, “I grew up feeling immune and exempt from circumstance. One of the things I suffered from was that I never felt adversity. I was confirmed in a sense of unreality." It was Diane’s husband, Allan Arbus who introduced her to photography. Diane met her husband when she was 14. He had worked at her parent’s department store, and eventually they fell in love. Diane and Allan got married at 18. In the early 1940’s, Allan taught Diane what he knew about photography, and they visited multiple galleries together, where she learned even more. Diane soon decided to take a class with the famous photographer Berenice Abbott. Soon enough, her father hired them both as fashion photographer for his department store. After the birth of their daughter, Doon, the Arbuses started a business together in fashion photography. Although they could both take wonderful pictures, Diane Arbus was the stylist. She prepared the hair and makeup of the models that were being photographed by Allan. They photographed for Vogue and Harper Bazaar. After working with her husband, Diane realized that she wanted to do more than just help, she wanted to take her own photographs, and although she had discovered her passion for photography, she needed to learn the technical aspect. Diane studied with Lisette Model, an Austrian-born American photographer, who said that soon enough Diane “was not listening to me, but listening to herself.” After adapting to photography herself, she began to do her own work without her husband, and in 1959 they got divorced due to infidelity and unhappiness on both sides. Though she was deeply depressed by the divorce, she began to do street photography herself and in 1960 she began free-lance photographer and continued to send in essay photos to Esquire magazine, while still receiving multiple celebrity fashion assignments from publications such as the Show and Harper’s Bazaar. Diane’s style of photography was unique to say the least. She was best known for her direct, stark black and white portraits of human oddities. She took pictures of transvestites, midgets, giants and nudists – anyone who interested her as she walked the streets of New York. Many of her photographs were of unusual people who could tell a story when they were photographed. She often used very dramatic lighting to achieve different affects because her photography was black and white. Diane searched to photograph the darker side of humanity in a different way, her photographs showed irregular people in regular everyday situations, as well as regular everyday people in irregular situations, comparing and greatly contrasting the lives of those who lived in New York. Her style was dramatically straightforward; usually her subject was shot head on, facing the camera, with their glare directly towards the center of the camera lens. She often slept with her subjects, in order to form a connection with them in order to create comfortable environment for her to photograph them, because she wanted them to truly be themselves and for this to reflect within the picture. It was said that she used direct flash to ‘peel away the public face of her subjects.’ Diane She loved to photograph in New York because of its wide variety of people. She believed that everyone has something interesting about them that deserve to be photographed, and in this way she was able to photograph the troubled side of any subject. A line that was underlined in her copy of The Works of Plato, “…a thing is not seen because it is visible, but conversely, visible because it is seen.” This is a line that greatly summarizes Diane’s style of photography. Between the years 1963-1966 she was supported by two Guggenheim fellowships for pictures including ‘ a young republican’, identical twin girls’, ‘drag queens’, ‘circus performers’, and ‘dwarfs’. In 1967, she took part in her first exhibition and last exhibition during her lifetime, the Museum of Modern Arts exhibit, entitled “Recent Acquisitions.” Diane taught photography at the Parsons School of Design from 1965-1966, the Cooper Union from 1968-1969 and Rhode Island School of Design from 1970-1971. Diane enjoyed sharing her unique techniques with others who shared her interest, and her classes were highly popular because of it. During this, Diane began to photograph mentally retarded patients in Vineland, New Jersey. These subjects were so absorbed with themselves that she could not reach or connect with them, and this frustrated her to a point of depression. On July 26th, 1971, Diane Arbus committed suicide by slitting her wrists. She was found two days later by her friend Marvin Israel, a director whom she had previously worked with, she was lying fully clothed in her bathtub. Although left no note or any form of message, a rumour arouse that she took pictures of herself dying, but no film was recovered. Her reputation greatly increased after her death, due to a massive collection and showing of her work at the Museum of Modern Arts edited by her daughter Doon and friend Marvin Israel. ‘Identical Twins’
Year: 1967
Medium Used: Black and white. Twin lens reflex was used to achieve the same depth of field for both subjects.
The waist-level viewfinder was used because it allowed her to connect with her subjects in ways that an eye-level viewfinder did not.

This photo depicts oddness in the similarities of the twins. Although both girls are smiling within the photograph, there is a level of emptiness that Diane captured. ‘Two friends at home’
Year: 1965
Medium: black and white/silver gelatin print
This photograph is an excellent example of Diane’s style of photography because though the subject matter is ordinary, the way the friends are portrayed in this picture is strange, and in this way it demonstrates her love for bringing out the troubled side of ordinary people in New York. ‘A Young Brooklyn Family Going for a Sunday Outing.’
Year: 1966
Medium Used: Black and white/silver gelatin print
This photograph displays Diane’s ability to show her subjects as they are. The purity and straight forward quality of her photos are often shocking. Once again, she uncovers the strangeness within the familiar. ‘The Child with the Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park.’
Year: 1962
Medium Used: Black and white/silver gelatin print
This picture is one of many that Diane took of Colin Wood, a young boy in Central Park. Although in the contact picture he was very happy and joyful, this picture is famous because it was caught in a moment of exasperation. ‘Christmas tree in a Living Room’
Year: 1963
Medium Used: Black and white/silver gelatin print
This picture captures a different side to Christmas and therefore it’s an excellent example of Diane’s style because she liked to take the ordinary and bring forth a different side of it. ‘Man in Curlers at Home.’
Year: 1966
Medium Used: Silver gelatin print, black and white, dramatic lighting (flash.)
This picture is a very straight forward and head on picture of a peculiar person. Diane’s goal was to portray strange people in normal situations, such as this. ‘Jewish Giant at home with his parents in the Bronx’
Year: 1970
Medium: silver gelatin print/black and white
This photo is a great example of her style because it gives the viewer a perspective of the life of an outsider. ‘A family on their lawn one Sunday in Westchester’
Year: 1968
Medium used: silver gelatin print/black and white
This example shows that although at first glance it may seem like a normal situation however, there is a sense of abnormality. ‘Patriotic Young Man with a Flag’
Year: 1967
Medium used: black and white/silver gelatin print
This picture greatly reflects her style because the man in the picture does not look like a typical American citizen yet he is showing patriotism.
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