Diane Arbus (American, 1923–1971) is one of the most distinguished American photographers of the 20th century, known for her arresting black and white photographs of children, artists, and famous figures, as well as her portraits of those living on the margins of conventional society. Arbus was born in New York, and first ventured into photography with her husband, Allan Arbus (American, 1918–2013), after World War II, gaining considerable success as a pair in the world of fashion photography. Arbus later divorced her husband and continued to work independently, studying with Alexei Brodovitch, the art director of Harper’s Bazaar, and Richard Avedon (America, 1923–2004).

In the early 1960s, Arbus began producing compelling portraits of people on the outskirts of society, including clowns, exotic dancers, circus performers, and transvestites; she received widespread recognition for these works. Arbus also became known for her eerie photographs of children, intimate portraits of famous figures, and urban scenes. Arbus received two Guggenheim Fellowships to support her work in the 1960s, and taught at the Parsons School of Design and at the Rhode Island School of Design.

In 1971, she committed suicide while still definitively at the height of her career. In 1972, the Museum of Modern Art held a retrospective of her work and the Aperture Foundation published an accompanying catalogue; the Aperture monograph has sold more than 12 million copies to date. The year after her death, Arbus was also selected as the first photographer to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale.

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