Diane Arbus's honest look and dedication to portraying those on the margins of society pushed against accepted standards of normalcy and beauty. Because of her originality and influence, she is an important part of American art history. Arbus's legacy is a demonstration of the importance of one's own point of view, demonstrating that originality can and often does arise from going where others fear to tread.
To begin, Diane Arbus is widely recognized as one of the most original and controversial artists of the 20th century. Her stark, frightening portraits of society's outcasts presented a fresh take on contemporary American culture.
Arbus was born Diane Nemerov on March 14, 1923, in New York City to rich parents who ran a posh department store. While she had always been fascinated by the field, it wasn't until the 1940s that she began to work professionally as a fashion photographer alongside her husband, Allan Arbus.
Taking photography classes from Lisette Model in the late '50s, Arbus underwent a transformation that marked her emergence as a singular talent. Arbus moved away from the glamour of the fashion industry to document the lives of those on the margins of society, such as dwarfs, giants, transsexual persons, nudists, and circus performers. This preoccupation with "deviant" and "marginal" individuals, as she frequently referred to her subjects, came to characterize her work.
Artistic Vision/Impact: Arbus's photographs are renowned for their passionate and raw depiction of human life. She would spend long periods of time with them, trying to get to know them and capture who they really were in her photographs. The resulting images are striking for their extreme closeness to the subject and their eerie, frightening quality. Arbus's photographs are striking because she often shoots in a square format and uses direct light to severely illuminate her subjects.
Arbus tragically ended her life in 1971, but her lasting influence may still be seen in the contemporary art scene. Her photographs were included in the first-ever Venice Biennale exhibition the year after her death in 1972.
Her fearlessness and dedication to exploring the shadows of human experience have made her an inspiration to visual artists and photographers. As a mirror to society that reflects our common humanity and the complexities of the individual experience, Arbus's art pushes us to the limits of our comfort and empathy.