“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

Diane Arbus was as unique a photographer as the subjects she chronicled. Her photographs of circus performers, dwarfs and giants, transgender people and nudists are stunning studies of what most consider grotesque, surreal or even ugly. Born to well-to-do parents, Diane was raised by maids and nannies. After her marriage to Allan Arbus, she became interested in photography studying under Berenice Abbot.

Diane Arbus with her camera in 1967. Photo by Gideon Lewin
Photo: Gideon Lewin 1967

Along with Allan, Diane started a commercial photography business called Diane & Allan Arbus. She served as the art director while he made the photographs. They contributed to many fashion magazines of the time including Glamour, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and others. Neither of them enjoyed the fashion work. Diane quit commercial work doing assignments for The Sunday Times Magazine, Esquire and Harper’s. 

Awarded a Guggenheim Fellowshipshe created a project concerning “American rites, manners, and customs.” She used Nikon 35mm cameras and Mamiya and Rolleiflex twin-lens cameras for her work on the street. She developed close relationships with those she photographed oftentimes returning and photographing them again. She was friends with Richard AvedonNotables she portrayed include Mae West, Ozzie and Harriet Nelson, Madalyn Murray O’Hair and Marguerite Oswald mother of alleged Kennedy assassin Lee Harvey Oswald.

Diane Arbus took her own life in 1971. She was 48 years old.

Read more On Photography.