Diane Arbus

From Academic Kids

Diane Arbus (b. Diane Nemerov, March 14, 1923, New York City; d. (suicide) July 26, 1971) was an American photographer of Russian Jewish descent.

Arbus came from a wealthy family, in which she was overshadowed by her older brother, poet Howard Nemerov. At age fourteen she fell in love with Allan Arbus, and as soon as she became eighteen she married him despite objections from her parents. A few years later Allan started to work as a photographer for the US Army, at night teaching Diane what he learned by day; she also learned about photography through Lisette Model. She ran a successful fashion photography studio for twenty years with her husband before they separated in 1959. The Arbuses had two children, photographer Amy Arbus and writer and art director Doon Arbus.

The work for which Arbus is most known for today is her photographs depicting outsiders, such as tranvestites, dwarves, giants, and prostitutes, as well as ordinary citizens in poses and settings that convey a disturbing uncanniness. Her voyeuristic approach does not, however, demean her subjects. In most portraits the subjects are on their own turf, seemingly comfortable. It is the viewer who is made to feel uncomfortable by the subject's acceptance of their "freakishness".

She became a Guggenheim fellow in the sixties and taught photography at colleges in New York and Amherst, MA, before ending her own life in 1971. It has been rumored that she took photographs of her own suicide but none were discovered when police arrived at the scene.

Arbus favored using twin-lens reflex medium format cameras, which offer square aspect ratios and higher negative resolution.

Famous photographs

  • Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, New York City (1962) [1] (http://www.masters-of-photography.com/A/arbus/arbus_hand_grenade_full.html) - A scrawny little boy in a jumper with the left strap awkwardly hanging off his shoulder stands with his long, thin arms held tensely by his side. A toy grenade is clenched in his right hand and his left hand is held in a claw-like gesture. His face could be described as maniacal. Arbus captured this expression by having the boy stand there while she kept moving around him, claiming she tried to find the right angle. After a while, the boy became impatient with her and told her to "take the picture already!", creating the expression that seems to convey that the boy has violence in mind, gripping the grenade tightly in his hand.
  • Identical Twins, (1967) [2] (http://www.npr.org/programs/morning/features/patc/twins/) - A picture of young twin sisters standing side by side in corduroy dresses. One is slightly smiling and the other is slightly frowning. This photo gained a unique notoriety when seized as inspiration by Stanley Kubrick in his film The Shining, where twins in an identical pose functioned to inspire terror. While never noted verbally by the taciturn director, Arbus's aesthetic indisputably informs both the horror of The Shining and his final film Eyes Wide Shut, which isolates and exhibits masked characters and sexuality similarly.
  • Jewish Giant at Home with His Parents in The Bronx, NY (1970) [3] (http://www.temple.edu/photo/photographers/arbus/arbusp3.htm) - A photo of Eddie Carmel, the "Jewish Giant", standing in his family's apartment with his much shorter mother and father. Some interpret it as showing how the man's unusual body has not interfered with having a normal and happy homelife. Others see a stiffness in the parents' postures and find it to show a gulf between Eddie and his family, perhaps indication of disappointment or sorrow over his strange appearance and predictably short lifespan; some see Mrs. Carmel's expression as she looks up at her son as that of surprise, as though she has just encountered him for the first time.


"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."

External link

it:Diane Arbus sv:Diane Arbus


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