Hello Photoion students and photography fans. Today we have another entry in our Masters of Photography series for you. This series looks at the life and work of some of the 20th century’s most important and influential photographers.
Today we will be taking a look at the work of Diane Arbus.
Diane Arbus was born in New York City in 1923. She was first introduced to photography when her husband, Allan Arbus, bought her a camera after their wedding. Shortly after, Diane’s father hired her and Allen to take photographs for his department store’s advertisements.
While Allan was away at war serving as a photographer for the US Army Signal Corps, Diane documented her first pregnancy on film which peaked her interest in photography. Shortly after the pair started a commercial photography business. To begin with, Diane conceptualised the photo shoots and was responsible for the models. She soon grew tired of that role and the pair went on to work for several high-profile fashion magazines. Though neither of them particularly liked the work.
By the middle 1950’s, Diane Arbus had started to walk the streets of the city, with her Rolleiflex in hand, capturing images of anyone she found interesting. Around his time, she began to number her images. Her last known numbered image was #7459, showing the scope of her life’s work.
Arbus is probably best known for her work with people on the fringes of society. She took many intimate black and white photographs of people such as the mentally ill, transgender people, and circus performers. These images were extremely controversial. Some curators of Arbus’ exhibits having to regularly make sure her prints had not been spat on.
Despite the strong reaction these images gave some people, it’s impossible to deny the raw quality the images possess. While there was some disagreement with how Arbus herself felt about her subjects and the motivation behind her images, they were composed in a way that showed the subject in full view, exactly as they were.
Arbus continued to work until her death in 1971 when she took her own life.
In the decades since her death, Diane Arbus’ work has continued to be exhibited, showcased, and discussed, with collections of her work still being published in 2018.