Photo Icon: Diane Arbus

“I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photograph them.” – Diane Arbus

My first introduction to a Diane Arbus photograph was in my late-teens visiting New York City, shuffling around the city streets and popping in and out of galleries. Back then (and even now) I was thirsty for art and photography.  That was when I came across a photograph of a young boy, haphazardly plastered against a brick wall with some graffiti directly beside it.



I was struck by the situational peculiarity of the boy holding a grenade in what seemed to be a public park during the daytime.  Immediately, I wanted to know more about the photograph and the person who shot it, which eventually led to my fascination with Diane Arbus.

Diane Arbus, photographed by her then-husband Allan Arbus (1949)

Diane Arbus, photographed by her then-husband Allan Arbus (1949)

Diane Arbus, often dubbed “the photographer of freaks,” was a New York based photographer who came to popular attention in the 50’s and 60’s. Her photography captures the hidden, the unique, and the neglected.  In the beginning, she actively shot for highly influential publications such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Esquire.  Later on, her growing interest in unique subjects led her to focus in on “deviant and marginal people or of people whose normality seems ugly or surreal.”  Common subjects consisted of circus performers, dwarfs, giants, and transgender people.

While photography can be glamorous and often centered around beautiful subjects, Arbus was able to seek out interesting, atypical subjects and bring them out of the dark and into the light.  She created a world of her own by giving us insight into a group of people we often like to ignore, for lack of a better word, freaks.

Arbus on her photography process: “I work from awkwardness. By that I mean I don’t like to arrange things. If I stand in front of something, instead of arrange it, I arrange myself.”

Identical Twins (1967)

Identical Twins (1967)

*Fun Fact: The photograph above is mirrored in the infamous scene with the twins in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining.


Tragically on July 26, 1971, Arbus who would often experience depressive episodes, was found dead in her bathtub at age 48. She had committed suicide by swallowing barbiturates and cutting her wrists with a razor. Even though she is no longer with us, her work continues to hold prevalence in the art world.  Recent prints of her’s have sold upwards of a half-million dollars.


As a photographer, Diane Arbus was able to fascinate us with her intuitive eye and open mind.  She truly captured her subjects the way she wanted to see them, not the way the rest of us might have seen them. Arbus found the beauty in the darkest corners of society, and for that we are all a little less guarded and a lot more open to seek beauty in every hidden corner.

“I mean, If you scrutinize reality closely enough, if in some way you really REALLY get to it, it becomes fantastic.  You know it really is totally fantastic that we look like this, and you sometimes see that very clearly in a photograph.  Something is ironic in the world and it has to do with the fact that, what you intend never comes out like you intended.  What I’m trying to describe is that it’s impossible to get out of your skin into someone else’s, and that’s what all of this is a little bit about. That somebody else’s tragedy is not the same as your own.”

– Diane Arbus

All photos credited to:

To learn more about Diane Arbus, watch this short documentary:


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