Born in New York City, where she lived and worked nearly all her life, Diane Arbus (1923-1971) is a celebrated master of the critical power of the photographic image and one of the most influential artists of the 20th Century. Among her best-known photographs are unflinching black and white square format portraits of couples, children, middle-class families, carnival performers, nudists, transvestites, zealots, eccentrics and celebrities. Her deliberate attention to detail and her respect for the documentary power of the medium confront the viewer with disconcertingly intimate encounters they might otherwise have escaped entirely.
Due in large part to her inclusion in MoMA’s 1967 "New Documents" exhibition, organized by John Szarkowski, Arbus is associated with the generation of “street photographers” that included Lee Friedlander and Garry Winogrand. These photographers prowled the streets of New York, equipped with their cameras, always ready to capture on film the bizarre juxtapositions that, under the conditions of the modern city, could occur without warning, practically instantaneously. Arbus, however, rarely staked as much of her photographs’ poignancy on the super-fast flash of the chance moment as did the male photographers of her generation. Instead, her photographs so often appear to be carefully thought-out, almost meditative in their quiet stillness, regardless of the actual circumstances of their making. Where their work relies on speed and agility, hers depends on patience, diligence and an unerring sense for the timeless and the mythic embodied in bare fact.