Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus is one of the most significant photographers of the twentieth century, an influential figure whose honest style of photography paved the way for the work of many contemporary photographers and artists. Her distinctive approach is marked by the directness of her portraiture, and by her ability to find the familiar in the strange, and discover the unusual in the ordinary.

Arbus undertook ‘to photograph everybody', including circus performers, transvestites, nudists and people with learning disabilities. The resulting portraits are bold and frank, but they also reflect the level of trust that Arbus worked hard to establish with her subjects, creating a complex, collaborative relationship that underpins the images.

Arbus was born in New York in 1923, and began in a partnership with her husband, Allan Arbus, in the 1940s, working for fashion magazines such as Glamour and Vogue.

In the late 1950s Arbus experimented with different techniques and sought out projects that interested her. She worked in many locations around New York, and followed in the tradition of American street photography, candidly photographing her surroundings with a 35mm camera. She became drawn to people who worked at, and visited, the amusement parks in Palisades Park and Coney Island, representatives of a subculture or underworld that remained a rich source of fascination for her.

In 1962 Arbus began using a 2 ¼ inch twin-lens Rolleiflex camera and developed a distinctively frontal, square-format portraiture. Often placing her sitters in the centre of the picture frame, Arbus intensified the sense of interaction and collaboration between her and the subjects she sought out.

It was not until the 1950s that she began to work seriously on her personal interests, after studying with the Austrian photographer Lisette Model, an experience that transformed her work. During the 1960s, Arbus received two John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship grants, which allowed her to pursue projects such as her study of American Rites, Manners and Customs, and in 1967 she was one of three photographers whose work was the focus of New Documents, a landmark exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in New York.

A year after her death in 1971, Arbus was the first American photographer to have her work selected for inclusion in the Venice Biennale, the largest and most prestigious showcase for contemporary art in the world.

ARTIST ROOMS comprises over 70 black-and-white photographs from across Arbus’s career, including both her earliest work in 35mm and her characteristic square-format images, and ranging from her best-known portraits to rarely-seen images.

All artworks by Diane Arbus