Diane Arbus Essay, Research Paper
Diane Nemerov was born in 1923 in New York City. Her father owned a fashionable Fifth Avenue department store called Russeks. His wife, Gertrude Russeks’, family founded it and it is now defunct. The family lived in an apartment on Central Park West as they were comfortably wealthy. They were a very prosperous family which lead to Diane’s sheltered childhood. She was educated at the Fieldstone and Ethical Culture schools which were very progressive institutes. This meant an overly protective, overly organized childhood during which she broke the monotony and boredom by being naughty. She defied the security provided by her family and school by doing the don’t-do’s.
Diane’s paternal grandfather, Meyer Nemerov left his native Russia after defying his parents’ wishes and marrying his sweetheart and not the girl his orthodox Jewish family had picked for him. When Diane was 13 years old she met Allan Arbus, during high school she carried on a secret affair with him against her parent’s wishes. They were married less than a month after her eighteenth birthday. He was nineteen. It was Allan Arbus, who introduced Diane to photography. During World War II, he was trained at the Signal Corps photography school at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey. Each night when he returned home, he would teach Diane what he had learned in a makeshift darkroom set up in their bathroom. After the war and sampling other careers, they both worked in the fashion industry as photographers. Their first account was for Diane’s father’s store. They went on to become a successful photographic team for almost 20 years. They had two daughters together, Doon and Amy.
In 1957 she realized that there was more to life and photography than helping Allan do his thing. She began to understand that a woman could have her own photographic style and do her own work. She was very relieved by this realization. Diane’s artistic career initiated in 1959 when she started studying photography with Lisette Model. It was also during the summer of 1959 that Diane and Allan ceased living together. After the dissolution of her marriage, Diane embarked on a wild, erotic quest to rejoin humanity. With her new and innovative style, Diane received the Guggenheim fellowship in 1963 as well as in ‘66. Arbus’ work had been exhibited in New York’s Museum of Modern Art in the 1967 “New Documents” photography show. After that exhibit, she began teaching photography at various schools including the Parsons School of Design in New York and Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts. Allan became an actor and starred as Dr. Sydney Friedman on the hit TV show M*A*S*H. He was also in movies, for example “The Christian Licorice Store” in 1971 and “The Electric Horseman” in 1979.
Diane Arbus took her own life on July 26, 1971, by ingesting a large quantity of barbiturates and then cutting open her wrists, she was already a legendary and respected figure in the world of photography. In less than ten productive years as a photographer she changed the way many see the world.
At first Diane’s work centred on obvious freaks and deviates because she felt that it was dangerous and forbidden. She photographed twins, triplets, midgets, the mentally ill, transvestites, the elderly, nudists and others. She had tremendous respect for these people and therefor was never judgemental with her photographs. She wanted to show people what she felt they normally wouldn’t see. ” Most people go through life dreading they’ll have a traumatic experience.” She once said ” Freaks are born with their trauma. They’ve already passed it.”
After a while Diane began to question why ugliness, deviations and flaws should be unacceptable. For her, existence was amoral or even trans-moral. In later years she was interested less in what was forbidden or terrible but what was specifically different. She began to photograph people on the street to show ” the gap between intention and effect..a point between what you want people to know about you and what you can’t help people knowing about you.” She felt that people were not satisfied with the exterior they are given so they created a whole new set of peculiarities in the effort to project a different image. For example she photographed men dressed as women and vice versa.
She was not trying to exploit her subjects but show the world their uniqueness. She empathized with her subjects and often became friends with them because they trusted her. Despite her compassion for her subjects she understood that “It’s impossible to get out of your skin into somebody else’s … That somebody else’s tragedy is not the same as your own.”
Diane Arbus often changed the style of photography because people tried to imitate it. She began using ragged, messy, black edges on her photographs to avoid association with the sharp edges of magazine pictures and her exhaustion with orderliness. As others began to imitate it she dropped it like a hot potato. She also changed the size of her photographs from the traditional eight by ten to sixteen by twenty. Every few years she would switch the type of camera she used in order to change her imagery.
She also used her natural sexuality. Apparently she photographed sexual orgies, bondage scenes and became increasingly interested in all that was sexual or erotic. Sex and art were what she used to replace her lost love. That is the end of her relationship with Allan Arbus. She engaged in numerous, intimate but eventually unrewarding relationships after their breakup.
Her photographs speak to the conflict artists frequently confront: the self, alone in a world of others. Outside of the mainstream is where we increasingly find our most interesting artists working. Many people think she committed suicide because she couldn’t bear the ugliness she saw in the world she photographed. This is probably not the reason as although what artists is deeply part of who they are, professional joys are very separate from private agonies.