“Love involves a peculiar unfathomable combination of understanding and misunderstanding.”
Diane Arbus was born to David and Gertrude Nemerov in New York City in 1923. A privileged child, she lived in a large apartment with her two siblings while her parents owned Russek’s of Fifth Avenue. Judith Thurber, of the New Yorker wrote, “Her heritage was, in fact that of most artistic children of privilege, who feel that their true selves are invisible, while resenting the dutiful, false selves for which they are loved: a dilemma that inspired the quest, in whatever medium, for a reflection.”
At 18, Arbus married her husband Allan, an advertising department employee of her parents’ store. It was Allan who would introduce Diane to photography. The couple would initially work together in advertising and fashion photography. Their efforts were a success, appearing in magazines such as Vogue. In the late fifties, however, Diane started to become more focused on her own photography while her relationship with Allan frayed. Arbus took to wandering the streets of New York, often entering realms that the rich might find unseemly: seedy hotels, a morgue and bars in the Bowery, amongst others. The unorthodox and raw results of her ventures found there way into Esquire magazine in 1960, providing her with a platform for her work. At this point her efforts were divided between commercial jobs and more personal works. Her commercial photographs would often be of public figures, but portrayed in a manner of oddity and even vulnerability. Hours would be spent with each subject in order to bring his or her guard down. Meanwhile, her personal work treaded in the realm of the risqué and overlooked. Notable amongst these were photos of drag queens, a pair of young, conservative-looking twins, little people and circus folk.
Arbus’ work was met with a great deal of success in her lifetime, but it didn’t bring her pure content. In a bout of depression, she would take pills and slash her wrists, killing herself in her New York Apartment in 1971. She was only 48. Yet the legacy of her photographs has continued to leave an imprint on future generations of artists. The MoMA’s retrospective after her death was the most attended exhibit for a solitary artist in its history. More recently, Nicole Kidman starred in a 2006 film called Fur, based on Arbus’ life.
For more information and examples of her photography: Diane Arbus