Diane Arbus, born Diane Nemerov on March 14, 1923 in New York City, lived to become one of the most influential photographers of photographic history. Arbus was born into a wealthy family. Having owned Russek’s, a Fifth Avenue department store specializing in luxury furs, the Nemerov’s were unaffected by the Great Depression and many other adversities common to many people living during that time. It was at Russek’s that Diane met 19 year old Allan Arbus, who she would later marry, collaborate, and have two daughters with, Doon and Amy.
Diane and Allan began a commercial career in photography after World War II where Allan was serving as a military photographer. The two, under the name “Diane & Allan Arbus,” produced fashion photographs for top women’s magazines such as Vogue, and for several advertising agencies. Allan usually shot the pictures while Diane acted as the art director, organizing the models, props, choosing the locations, and dictating hair and make-up. Growing tired of the day to day limitations and stresses of the fashion world, Diane left the business and her husband to become an independent photographer. Picking up the 35mm camera that Allan gifted her early in their marriage, Diane explored the streets of New York to find subjects that satisfied her looming curiosities of the outside world. She sought to photograph people, places, and things that were beyond the bubble she felt she grew up in.
At some point, the line between Arbus’s personal life and work blurred. Her photographs embodied the courage and independence characteristic of her personality as she challenged established conventions and questioned what the distance between photographer and subject should and could be. Arbus took her own life on July 26, 1971 at the age of 48. She did not live to see her work thrive as it was destined to, but she is one of the greatest portrait photographers to live and work in the 20th century. Innumerable of Diane Arbus’s photographs are part of prestigious museum collections such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, NY, and her photographic style, direct and austere, original and provocative, has lived on to influence Contemporary photography.