Diane Arbus: A Controversial Life

Diane Arbus is one of the most influential photographers of the twentieth century. Born in New York City, she was working as a fashion photographer before she began to pursue an artistic career. Arbus made portraits of people from across society, but is best known for her powerful images of people whose situation or choices in life kept them on the margins of society – such as circus and freak show performers, transsexuals, nudists or the mentally handicapped. It is easy to see how she was inspired by her mentor, Lisette Model.

She committed suicide in 1971, at the age of 48.
All photos are © Diane Arbus/The Estate of Diane Arbus LLC

Diane Arbus with her camera.

Boy with a toy hand grenade.

Identical twin sisters.

A transvestitie in curlers.

The ‘Jewish Giant’ with his parents.


Circus performer.

Taxi, New York City.

Girl waiting to cross the street.

Circus performer.

A lady in a hat.

Identical twin brothers.

A Down’s Syndrome girl at the swimming pool.

49 thoughts on “Diane Arbus: A Controversial Life

  1. (1) Diane with her transsexual, nudist, mentally handicapped camera. (Some cameras are just limited in what they can photograph.)
    (2) He was told it was a toy hand grenade. But after he went back inside, he pulled the pin and…BOOM!!
    (3) “We’re auditioning for The Shining.”
    (4) Seeing that transvestite made my toes curl.
    (5) “Where’s my giant peach?”
    (6) “We’re the Triplets of Belleville. Parlez-vous français?”
    (7) “I only perform in the circus on weekends. Monday through Friday, I’m a CPA.”
    (8) “You lookin’ at me? You lookin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you lookin at?
    (9) “What is that chicken doing in the crosswalk?”
    (10) “I can do somersaults in bed, and never lose the hat off my head!”
    (11) “This is not a lady in a hat.” (René Magritte)
    (12) “We can hear a mosquito snoring from ten blocks away.”
    (13) “Come on in, the water’s wet!”

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Strange how times change. “Freaks” from 1932 was banned in the UK for 30 years. I am reminded of Eudora Welty’s 1930s photographic work. She claims to have learned how to capture a moment with her camera and later used that glimpse of humanity in her writing. Studying the work of women is often far more enlightening than men. A lesbian fairy godmother character once said after attending a concert “That’s what men should do. Make loud, powerful sexy music out of electricity and leave everything else to us.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Good post about a gifted artist. She was married to Alan Arbus, of the TV series MASH, btw. My first paid Photography gig was hanging around Diane Arby’s photo show back in the day. I learned a lot from her work. Thanks for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Apologies for typos. I am nearly blind and speech recognition mangles things. I tried to say my first gig was HANGING a show of her work, not “hanging around.” And it was supposed to be Arby’s and not Arby’s. Sheesh . Sorry

      Liked by 1 person

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