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Diane Arbus?

Updated on April 1, 2011

Diane Arbus Shows Us What We Can't or Won't See

When I was in college I took a photography course. This was back in the days when film was developed and we learned dark room as well as picture taking. As a sociology major I took the course pass/fail something my teacher found insulting. ok

I took a picture of two couples, two of my mother's brothers and their wives. They were just sitting in a row, but I thought it had an Arbus quality to it. I worked it hard in the dark room. The teacher called it a snapshot. What he should have said was that it was "derivative at best, and just a poor, immature copy at worst". He should have asked me who I thought I was to try to imitate a great master. But what he said was that it was a 'snap shot'.

And of course, the snapshot criticism is what a lot of her critics claimed. While I am not in her class, but rather a kindergardener to her post PhD, I do know great photography when I see it. To look at an Arbus photograph is to be lost in all the possibilities that were invisible until she took the picture.

Diane Arbus Sees The Invisible

"I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn't photograph them. "

"I never have taken a picture I've intended. They're always better or worse."

Diane Arbus: The Giant The Freakish Made Normal

Diane Arbus: The Giant  The Freakish Made Normal
Diane Arbus: The Giant The Freakish Made Normal

Three reasons to love Diane Arbus

1. She Maked The Freakish Normal

2. She Makes the Normal Freakish

3. She Is Very Quotable (something that I didn't know before)

Diane Arbus: Two Women Lunching, The Normal Made Freakish

Diane Arbus: Two Women Lunching, The Normal Made Freakish
Diane Arbus: Two Women Lunching, The Normal Made Freakish

A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.

Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus
Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus: The Twins, A Signature

Diane Arbus: The Twins, A Signature
Diane Arbus: The Twins, A Signature

Diane Arbus and Her Contemporaries

Diane Arbus: Freaks Are Aristocrats of Humanity

"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. "

Diane Arbus' Subject on Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus on Self Confidence

"Regardless of how you feel inside, always try to look like a winner. Even if you are behind, a sustained look of control and confidence can give you a mental edge that results in victory."

The Diane Arbus Documentary

Diane Arbus' Critics

Jim Lewis 10/3/03

Diane the CoedArbus' photos of freakish, strange people are disappointingly pious.

By Jim Lewis

Well, that was a shocker. I guess I should read on and see if this guy has anything to say.

Lewis goes on to explain how both her subjects and even her equipment were in opposition to the workings of the day. The way she shot, is part of what made normal people look freakish.

"Well, art doesn't work that way. A picture is only redemptive, for its maker, its audience, or its subject, when it isn't trying; morality, if it exists at all, arises only as an unintended by-product of the work's own demands. Arbus was a great photographer, yes; there's no denying that. She was a master of the medium, and she had an eye like no one else's. But imagine how much better she might have been, if she wasn't trying so hard to be good."

Your Critic of Diane Arbus' Work

I love Diane Arbus' work. I think it is respectful and wonderous. However, I am not without mixed feelings.

For example, while I believe that she respected her subjects, I have to wonder if those who posed were the precursors of those who appear on Jerry Springer and the ubiquitous 'Judge' shows to find out 'who their baby Daddy is'.

I wonder even more at the normal people. Surely they knew that no one came out normal in Diane Arbus' lens. I think I understand her, but what about them? Of course, it was a purer time, simpler for sure. Perhaps they just didn't think at all beyond the excitement of their 15 minutes of fame.

I would really like to hear what you think of her work AND her subjects. Thanks for participating.

What Do You Think of Diane Arbus' Work?

Diane Arbus: Patriotic Young Man

Diane Arbus: Patriotic Young Man
Diane Arbus: Patriotic Young Man

Quick, what do you think of Diane Arbus?

See results

Diane Arbus: Royalty

Diane Arbus: Royalty
Diane Arbus: Royalty

Diane Arbus: Disturbing

Diane Arbus: Disturbing
Diane Arbus: Disturbing

Diane Arbus on Naughty

"I always thought of photography as a naughty thing to do - that was one of my favorite things about it, and when I first did it, I felt very perverse."

Diane Arbus Suicide

In July of 1971 Diane Arbus took a large amount of barbituates and then slashed her wrists, leaving little doubt as to her intent.

Her suicide was even freakish. She loved her freaks and served them because she considered herself to be one of them.

Nicole Kidman as Diane Arbus

"Diane Arbus was born, to a wealthy Jewish family, in 1923. David Nemerov, her father, was the hard-working son of a Russian immigrant; her mother Gertrude was the daughter of the owners of Russek's Fur Store. After the marriage, David helped manage Russek's, and oversaw its transformation into a department store, Russek's of Fifth Avenue, which specialized in furs. His interest, however, was in women's clothing, and he was said to have an extraordinary intuition for what the next trend in women's fashion would be.

Diane (pronounced Dee-Ann ) was a privileged child, raised with her two siblings in large apartments on Central Park West and Park Avenue. She later told Studs Terkel, for his Hard Times: An Oral History of the Depression , "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."

From Daniel Oppenheimer (see above)

Fur About Diane Arbus

Books By and About Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus: Revelations
Diane Arbus: Revelations

Diane Arbus redefined the concerns and the range of the art she practiced. Her bold subject matter and photographic approach have established her preeminence in the world of the visual arts. Her gift for rendering strange those things we consider most familiar, and uncovering the familiar within the exotic, enlarges our understanding of ourselves. Diane Arbus Revelations affords the first opportunity to explore the origins, scope, and aspirations of wha...

Diane Arbus: Monograph (Aperture Monograph)
Diane Arbus: Monograph (Aperture Monograph)

New technology has made possible this lustrous new printing from all new film. These landmark images now have a clarity and depth not achievable in earlier editions. Text by Diane Arbus. Edited by Marvin Israel and Doon Arbus. Paperback, 9.25 x 11 in./182 pgs

Masters of Photography - Diane Arbus
Masters of Photography - Diane Arbus

In 1967, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York City presented New Documents -- a major exhibition of the personal visions of several photographers -- the surprise of the show was the work of Diane Arbus. On her own, against the advice of many friends, she had pursued her documentation of people on the fringes of society, and the astonishing in the commonplace. Suddenly she was famous, with students and imitators. By 1972 her work was everywhere, and was featured at the Venice Biennale, where...

Diane Arbus: A Biography
Diane Arbus: A Biography

Diane Arbus—now the subject of a national retrospective and a forthcoming movie—was the archetypal artist living on the edge. Diane Arbus's unsettling photographs of dwarves and twins, transvestites and giants, both polarized and inspired, and her work had already become legendary when she committed suicide in 1971. This groundbreaking biography examines the private life behind Arbus's controversial art. The book deals with Arbus's pampered Manhattan childhood, he...


Any Purchase Here Will Contribute to Heifer International: The Pay It Forward Entrepreneurial Charity

Diane Arbus Sees Things from a Different Angle

Diane Arbus Sees Things from a Different Angle
Diane Arbus Sees Things from a Different Angle

Diane Arbus: Young Family, One of My Favorites

Diane Arbus: Young Family, One of My Favorites
Diane Arbus: Young Family, One of My Favorites

Share your stories, sightings, thoughts, rants, raves...

Shout Out For Diane Arbus!

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    • profile image


      5 years ago


    • profile image


      5 years ago

      I was flying by and just had to stop by and enjoy the wondrous giftings of Diane Arbus again...wondrous!

    • PromptWriter profile image

      Moe Wood 

      5 years ago from Eastern Ontario

      Ok, you've stumped me. Why is there a ? in the title?

    • hlkljgk profile image


      7 years ago from Western Mass

      love the addition of some of her work

    • jvsper63 profile image


      7 years ago

      She was a fascinating woman. You did a lovely tribute!! Great lens

    • jvsper63 profile image


      7 years ago

      She was a fascinating woman. You did a lovely tribute!! Great lens

    • Diana Wenzel profile image

      Renaissance Woman 

      7 years ago from Colorado

      I always love learning about creative and unique individuals. Certainly, Diane Arbus was both. Very interesting lens.

    • ChrisDay LM profile image

      ChrisDay LM 

      7 years ago

      Great stuff - failed the quiz, though! Should've read the lens first!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This is a really inspiring lens! I would love to know what kind of modules you used to post those photos because they really present well. I hope my next lens is this good!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Well done Margo! Diane Arbus certainly made her lasting mark on our world. Another tortured artist with brilliance and all that darkness. One persons snapshot is another person's masterpiece!

    • LisaAuch1 profile image

      Lisa Auch 

      7 years ago from Scotland

      how wonderful, thankyou for introducing me to this wonderful Artist. I am off to look at some more of your tributes as I love the way your write

    • Amy Fricano profile image

      Amy Fricano 

      7 years ago from WNY

      This is wonderful.

    • norma-holt profile image


      7 years ago

      Love it, like your other tribute lens you get into the nitty gritty and explain it from the bottom up. Great lens and featured on Photography

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Great lens and excellent pictures. I saw an exhibition of her work fairly recently.

      I still use film (occasionally) but I haven't been in a dark room for years (I scan then use Photoshop or Gimp to finish the pictures)

    • papawu profile image


      9 years ago

      Really thoughtfully done. I can tell that you are really a fan of her work. I think a movie was made with Nicole Kidman playing the role of what Arbus was meant to be. Very interesting lens about a truly fascinating individual.


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