NEW YORK, N.Y.- Diane Arbus: A Chronology (October, 2011) reads like a contemporaneous diary by one of the most daring, influential, and controversial artists of the twentieth century. Drawn primarily from Arbus’s extensive correspondence with friends, family, and colleagues; personal notebooks; and other unpublished writings, this beautifully produced volume exposes the private thoughts and motivations of a photographer whose astonishing vision revolutionized the medium. Further rounding out Arbus’s life and work are exhaustively researched footnotes that amplify the entire Chronology. A section at the end of the book provides biographies for fifty-five personalities, family members, friends, and colleagues, from Marvin Israel and Lisette Model to Weegee and August Sander.
Her powerful, sometimes controversial, images often frame the familiar as strange and the strange or exotic as familiar. This singular vision and her ability to engage in such an uncompromising way with her subjects has made Arbus one of the most important and influential photographers of the twentieth century.
In 1972, a year after she committed suicide, Arbus became the first American photographer to have photographs displayed at the Venice Biennale. Millions of people viewed traveling exhibitions of her work in 1972–1979. In 2003–2006, Arbus and her work were the subjects of another major traveling exhibition, Diane Arbus Revelations. In 2006, the motion picture Fur, starring Nicole Kidman as Arbus, presented a fictional version of her life story.
Although some of Arbus’s photographs have sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars at auction, Arbus’s work has provoked controversy; for example, Norman Mailer was quoted in 1971 as saying “Giving a camera to Diane Arbus is like putting a live grenade in the hands of a child.”
During the 1960’s, she taught photography at the Parsons School of Design and the Cooper Union in New York City, and the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence, Rhode Island. The first major exhibition of her photographs occurred at the Museum of Modern Art in a 1967 show called “New Documents” which was curated by John Szarkowski and which also featured the work of Garry Winogrand and Lee Friedlander. Some of her artistic work was done on assignment. Although she continued to photograph on assignment (e.g., in 1968 she shot documentary photographs of poor sharecroppers in rural South Carolina for Esquire magazine), in general her magazine assignments decreased as her fame as an artist increased. Szarkowski hired Arbus in 1970 to research an exhibition on photojournalism called “From the Picture Press”; it included many photographs by Weegee whose work Arbus admired.
Using softer light than in her previous photography, she took a series of photographs in her later years of people with intellectual disability showing a range of emotions. At first, Arbus considered these photographs to be “lyric and tender and pretty,” but by June 1971 she told Lisette Model that she hated them. Among other photographers and artists she befriended during her career, she was close to photographer Richard Avedon; he was approximately the same age
Describing the Chronology in Art in America, Leo Rubinfien noted that “Arbus. . . wrote as well as she photographed, and her letters, where she heard each nuance of her words, were gifts to the people who received them. Once one has been introduced to it, the beauty of her spirit permanently changes and deepens one’s understanding of her pictures . . . ”
The material in Diane Arbus: A Chronology originally appeared in Diane Arbus Revelations. The new publication offers, in an accessible, paperback volume, Arbus’s insights into her life and work in her own words. It is indispensable reading for anyone interested in the artist, her photographs, and her world.
Diane Arbus (1923–1971) is widely recognized as one of the most iconic artists of the twentieth century. In addition to Chronology, four volumes of her work have been published posthumously and have remained continuously in print: Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph (1972), Diane Arbus: Magazine Work (1984), Untitled: Diane Arbus (1995), and Diane Arbus Revelations (2003).
Elisabeth Sussman (coauthor, chronology and footnotes) is the Sondra Gilman Curator of Photography at the Whitney Museum of American Art. She served as guest co-curator for the retrospective Diane Arbus Revelations.
Doon Arbus (coauthor, chronology and footnotes) is the eldest daughter of Diane and Allan Arbus; since her mother’s death she has managed The Estate of Diane Arbus.
Jeff L. Rosenheim (author, biographies) is curator of photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Exhibition on View: Coinciding with the publication of A Chronology is an international traveling exhibition premiering at Jeu de Paume, Paris. With over two hundred photographs, this first major retrospective of her work in France reveals the origins, scope, and aspirations of a wholly original force in photography.
• Jeu de Paume, Paris, October 18, 2011–February 5, 2012
• Fotomuseum, Winterthur, Switzerland, March 2–May 28, 2012
• Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin, June 21–September 24, 2012
• FOAM, Amsterdam, October 25, 2012–January 13, 2013