(Washington, D.C., 1923 - 1971, New York)
Although Diane Arbus is well-known for her photographic portraits of eccentrics, social outcasts and other marginalized people, she began her career as a fashion photographer with no formal artistic training. Despite being born into a relatively wealthy family in New York City and educated at progressive schools, Arbus chose not to attend college and married her husband Allan the year she graduated high school. In 1946, Arbus’s husband was discharged after receiving photographic training in the army. The couple then began working collaboratively in fashion photography; Diane was responsible for setting up the shot, and Allan took the photograph. Once their photographs appeared in magazines such as Vogue and Glamour, Arbus began to show their work to Nancy Newhall, the photography curator for the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. (Eventually, in 1964, MoMA became the first museum to buy an Arbus photograph.)
Arbus quit fashion photography, which she had grown to hate, in 1956. From 1957 to 1959, she studied with the photographer Lisette Model. It was at the end of this period that Arbus separated from her husband and began taking her own work, including her photographs of social outcasts, to magazine editors. After being awarded Guggenheim fellowships in 1963 and 1966, Arbus began to achieve recognition when 32 of her portraits were featured in MoMA’s 1967 New Documents exhibit. Later that year, Arbus stopped showing and publishing her work except for magazine assignments. In 1971, at age 48, she committed suicide.
A year after her death, Arbus’s reputation grew considerably when she became the first American photographer included in the Venice Biennale. In November of the same year, a Diane Arbus retrospective opened at MoMA, which was seen by 250,000 people before it traveled on to 43 other museums around the world.