The Beautiful and the Damned: The Photography of Diane Arbus

Diane Arbus’ photographs never intended to be beautiful. In fact, it was quite the opposite. The doomed American photographer, who had her heyday from the late 40’s to the 60’s, was known for her black-and-white square portraits (she was ahead of the game, Instagram) of “deviant and marginal people or of people whose normality seems ugly or surreal.” People who are usually not meant to be in front of the camera and who society often condemns—dwarfs, giants, transgender people, nudists, and circus performers—were her subjects of choice. In her book, Diane Arbus: A Biography, Patricia Bosworth says that a friend of Arbus’ said that the photographer was “afraid … that she would be known simply as ‘the photographer of freaks.’” And this is a phrase that has stuck with many of Arbus’ biographers, fans, and collectors.

Perhaps Arbus’ photographs are so emotive because the woman behind the lens was herself tortured. Arbus’ depression eventually won and she took her own life in 1971. But the legacy she has left lasts up until today. The year following her death, she became the first American photographer to have photographs displayed at the Venice Biennale. Since the 1970s, there have been many travelling retrospective exhibitions of the artist all around the world. In 2006, the film Fur, starring Nicole Kidman as Arbus, presented a fictionalized version of her life. In the wake of news that Arbus’ works will be displayed at the upcoming ArtInternational fair in Istanbul in September, here are some of Arbus’ most bizarre, candid, and alluring works.

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Title image source:; all other photos from


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