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Diane Arbus: A Biography

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Like Frida Kahlo and Georgia O'Keefee, Diane Arbus exerts a fascination rooted in both her art and her life. Her startling photographic images of dwarfs, twins, transvestites, and freaks seemed from the first to redefine both the normal and the abnormal in our lives and they were already becoming part of the iconography of the age when Arbus committed suicide in 1971. Arbu Like Frida Kahlo and Georgia O'Keefee, Diane Arbus exerts a fascination rooted in both her art and her life. Her startling photographic images of dwarfs, twins, transvestites, and freaks seemed from the first to redefine both the normal and the abnormal in our lives and they were already becoming part of the iconography of the age when Arbus committed suicide in 1971. Arbus herself remained an enigma until the publication of this first full biography. Patricia Bosworth examines the life behind the eerie, mesmerizing photographs: Diane's pampered childhood; her passionate marriage to Allan Arbus and their work together as fashion photographers during the fifties; the emotional upheaval surrounding the end of that marriage; and the radically dark, liberating, and ultimately tragic turn Diane's art took during the sixties. Bosworth's engrossing book is a compassionate portrait of the woman behind some of the most powerful photographs of our time.


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Like Frida Kahlo and Georgia O'Keefee, Diane Arbus exerts a fascination rooted in both her art and her life. Her startling photographic images of dwarfs, twins, transvestites, and freaks seemed from the first to redefine both the normal and the abnormal in our lives and they were already becoming part of the iconography of the age when Arbus committed suicide in 1971. Arbu Like Frida Kahlo and Georgia O'Keefee, Diane Arbus exerts a fascination rooted in both her art and her life. Her startling photographic images of dwarfs, twins, transvestites, and freaks seemed from the first to redefine both the normal and the abnormal in our lives and they were already becoming part of the iconography of the age when Arbus committed suicide in 1971. Arbus herself remained an enigma until the publication of this first full biography. Patricia Bosworth examines the life behind the eerie, mesmerizing photographs: Diane's pampered childhood; her passionate marriage to Allan Arbus and their work together as fashion photographers during the fifties; the emotional upheaval surrounding the end of that marriage; and the radically dark, liberating, and ultimately tragic turn Diane's art took during the sixties. Bosworth's engrossing book is a compassionate portrait of the woman behind some of the most powerful photographs of our time.

30 review for Diane Arbus: A Biography

  1. 4 out of 5

    maria

    Arbus' family would not cooperate with Bosworth's biography, and the resulting lack of documentation really shows. It feels improvised and untrustworthy and is overall just pretty poorly written. Looks like DIANE ARBUS REVELATIONS, a catalog of a huge retrospective organized by Arbus' family and SF MOMA, contains much better info (in addition to her actual photos, which Bosworth couldn't publish). Arbus' family would not cooperate with Bosworth's biography, and the resulting lack of documentation really shows. It feels improvised and untrustworthy and is overall just pretty poorly written. Looks like DIANE ARBUS REVELATIONS, a catalog of a huge retrospective organized by Arbus' family and SF MOMA, contains much better info (in addition to her actual photos, which Bosworth couldn't publish).

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jakki Newton

    Diane Arbus frightens me. Her photographs frighten me (the faces of her subjects seem to stare straight into you), the way she always seemed to give herself away frightens me (her numerous sexual exploits, the confessionals that followed), and her suicide frightens me. I feel angry too. Angry that Allan Arbus left her for another women when she had sacrificed so much for him. I think their separation killed her. I feel angry about a comment at the end of the biography that people were bored with Diane Arbus frightens me. Her photographs frighten me (the faces of her subjects seem to stare straight into you), the way she always seemed to give herself away frightens me (her numerous sexual exploits, the confessionals that followed), and her suicide frightens me. I feel angry too. Angry that Allan Arbus left her for another women when she had sacrificed so much for him. I think their separation killed her. I feel angry about a comment at the end of the biography that people were bored with her depression. Depression is boring, and repetitive, and it goes on and on. Why didn't anyone help her? I am in awe of Diane Arbus. I cannot believe she was born the year after my own grandmother who seems from a different time entirely. She was brave to the point of reckless. I sense desperation in her ability to confront these worlds that she was afraid of. As if she is taking ownership of her anxiety, saying "OK if I am going to feel like this anyway I may as well create a reason to be afraid". There is poetry in this act. So I am obviously affected by this biography. I want to climb into the pages and save her. The book also made me think about the authorship of art history, and the nature of fame. How being in the right place at the right time is as much a part of the creation of Arbus as legacy as her intuition and talent. A moment in history that witnessed a cultural shift. In her case documented it. My one criticism of this book was the low quality of the photographs in my edition. And I wonder why Allan and Doon Arbus wouldn't contribute?

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    You could make the case that the transgressive photographer Diane Arbus sufficiently represented the zeitgeist of the times she lived in. Patricia Bosworth’s Diane Arbus: A Biography, although being unauthorized, has become the standard book for documenting her productive but troubled life. Bosworth does not explicitly claim that Arbus was an avatar representing the values of her times but it is easy to see how this could be true and understanding the values of the 1950’s and 1960s will go a lon You could make the case that the transgressive photographer Diane Arbus sufficiently represented the zeitgeist of the times she lived in. Patricia Bosworth’s Diane Arbus: A Biography, although being unauthorized, has become the standard book for documenting her productive but troubled life. Bosworth does not explicitly claim that Arbus was an avatar representing the values of her times but it is easy to see how this could be true and understanding the values of the 1950’s and 1960s will go a long way in helping you understand the significance of her photos. According to Patricia Bosworth, Diane Arbus was a precocious child, seemingly almost tailor-made to be an artist. She was an avid reader, felt emotions strongly, and was strangely sensitive to physical sensations, feeling life in every material item she touched. She experienced the world around her at at a much deeper level than everyone around her which, darkly, sometimes led to periods of melancholia and depression. She came from a family of secular Jews with ancestral roots in Ukraine. Her father owned a chain of expensive fur coat stores with their flagship location being on 5th Avenue in Manhattan. Diane Arbus grew up in a sheltered environment with her family protecting her from the negativity of the Great Depression and World War II in their New York City apartment. In the 1950s, Diane married Allan Arbus, the first boy she fell in love with during high school. Despite their almost inseparable attachment, she simultaneously had romantic notions for Allan’s close friend Alex Eliot, who she eventually had an affair with. The husband and wife team rose to prominence in the art world as fashion photographers, working freelance for Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, and Life. They churned out magazine spreads at a dizzying pace like a highly productive factory while maintaining high standards of quality. Their work was monotonous but stable and dependable; still an unease and creeping feeling of dissatisfaction was underlying their lives. If Diane Arbus could be said to exemplify the cultural attitude of the 1950s it would be in this dullness and restraint of emotions. Everything in her life was fine and that was entirely the problem. Up to this point, Bosworth’s biography suffers from one major flaw. There is very little said about Diane Arbus herself. The author goes into a lot of detail about the people in Arbus’s life but doesn’t say enough about her. There is a lot of information about her family and friends while Arbus just fades into the background. Her absence weighs heavy on the narrative while Bosworth goes into yet another sidetrack discussion about her brother, her friends, or other members of the professional photography community of that time. The author might have been trying to camouflage Diane Arbus in the people surrounding her to make a point of how inconspicuous she could be, but if that was done intentionally, it was taken too far, so far that it interferes with the flow and meaning of the text. During the ‘60s, Arbus’s life began to change and this is where this biography becomes more interesting. As a fashion photographer, she got used to seeing different sides of her models. Many of them were poor, suffering from depression, or having problems with drugs and alcohol. Some of them were homeless or victims of domestic violence. But when the Arbuses photographed them, they took on a whole other appearance. These displays they put on for for the camera were superficial and fake. She took interest in who these models were in reality. She decided to use her photographer’s talents to explore this other side of life. Diane Arbus began taking pictures of carnival sideshow freaks, homosexuals, eccentrics, the mentally ill, nudists and all other manner of people who existed at the margins of society. She became fascinated with the seedy street-life of 42nd Street. She photographically documented the world of outsiders in America. She didn’t just take their pictures, though. In most cases she spent hours talking to them, getting to know them, sometimes visiting them in their homes, sometimes having sex with them. By getting to know them first, she felt like she could break through to the real people they were. When most people are confronted with a camera, they act as if they want to project to the world how they want to be seen but Diane Arbus wanted to show the world how they really were. By photographing these outsiders, Arbus tried to see something of herself in them, to identify with them and to force the viewer to do the same by confronting us with their images. Her style of portraiture was aggressive, rough, sometimes even intimidating. For Diane Arbus, this photography was a means of transgressing her own boundaries. She was breaking taboos with her art and likewise in her own life the initial feeling of liberation led more and more to extremes. She became continuously more promiscuous, attending orgies, and going as far as having casual sex with complete strangers in public places. As the 1960s progressed, becoming more and more liberated and free spirited, her life became more disorganized, her marriage ended, and her photography become more popular. But as gallery managers and art dealers hailed her as a visionary and genius, she sunk deeper into poverty and mental illness. Just as the hippie generation ended with the Manson Family murders and the deadly chaos at Altamont, Diane Arbus sank into a hopeless state of depression and committed suicide. It was as if she personally embodied, step by step, year by year, the whole process of lifestyle experimentation, social change, and the undoing of repressions that characterized the counter cultral movement of that pivotal decade. Going so far off the rails and into wildly uncharted territory, unfortunately, led to the simultaneous downfall of both Diane Arbus and the hippies’ strive for utopia at exactly the same time. In terms of the narrative, Bosworth does a much better job of telling the story in the chapters dealing with the 1960s. Maybe that is because that decade was the most productive and most interesting period of Diane Arbus’s life, but also the author does a better job of keeping unnecessarily extraneous information from intruding. There is still some sidetracking, she provides a lot of biographical information about Weegee even though Arbus did not actually know him, but this sidetracking is less prevalent and the narrative moves along more smoothly as a result. Diane Arbus: A Biography certainly has its flaws. The writing is sometimes choppy and Patricia Bosworth provides quotes from a wide array of people who don’t seem to be particularly important or insightful for the purposes of this book. These shortcomings are not big enough to ruin it. Patricia Bosworth did a sufficient amount of research to make it work in the end and she succeeds in putting Arbus’s life and oeuvre into context in terms of art history, photography, theory, criticism, and the socio-cultural climate. A definite picture of Diane Arbus stands firm at the end. She was a woman who moved faster than everybody else, so fast that her contemporaries could not keep up with where she was going until it was too late. She reflected and influenced the times she lived in and it is only with hindsight that people are able to see what that means. https://grimhistory.blogspot.com/

  4. 4 out of 5

    Suvi

    The curse of having too many interests: no patience to focus on one of them at a time. I would love to read biographies more, but there are too many interesting books and movies! I finally got back to them, but it was a conflicting experience. What I love about biographies is the fact that the good ones are well researched and objective. Memoirs leave room for the person to twist events in their favor or leave uncomfortable things out. The problem with trying to write about Diane Arbus specificall The curse of having too many interests: no patience to focus on one of them at a time. I would love to read biographies more, but there are too many interesting books and movies! I finally got back to them, but it was a conflicting experience. What I love about biographies is the fact that the good ones are well researched and objective. Memoirs leave room for the person to twist events in their favor or leave uncomfortable things out. The problem with trying to write about Diane Arbus specifically, though, is that she was very private. Patricia Bosworth's attempts to decipher her personality and motives seemed a tad useless, especially when she claimed to know what Arbus was thinking at a given time (no sources) or repeated people's perceptions of her. The latter isn't that bad when done sparingly, but when the author and her sources are all trying to probe her personality... Made me a little uncomfortable. If someone wants to live behind a curtain, let them. Overall, though, this might just be the best we can get about Arbus. She may have failed at becoming a wholesome 1950s housewife like she originally tried to be, but she was an incredibly talented photographer, who didn't seem to believe in herself all that much. Her burning desire to create and follow her passion is something we can all learn from. She poured her intensity and power into her photos. All her photos. She never wanted to be just a "freak" photographer. She sadly didn't see a way out of her depression and decided to cut her life short, but no one should be judged for that. She of all people was incredibly brave during her entire life.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Sharon Barrow Wilfong

    This was a briefer biography than Arthur Lubow's by about two hundred pages. While Bosworth did not shy away from Arbus' deviant sexual proclivities, she avoided that salacious detail Lubow enjoyed indulging in, which may account for the shorter version. Also, this biography was written in 1984 and without the cooperation of Arbus' husband, lover Marvin Israel or her daughters, Amy and Doon, which could also explain a greater lack of detail than Lubow's book. Her brother, Howard, mother, Gertrude This was a briefer biography than Arthur Lubow's by about two hundred pages. While Bosworth did not shy away from Arbus' deviant sexual proclivities, she avoided that salacious detail Lubow enjoyed indulging in, which may account for the shorter version. Also, this biography was written in 1984 and without the cooperation of Arbus' husband, lover Marvin Israel or her daughters, Amy and Doon, which could also explain a greater lack of detail than Lubow's book. Her brother, Howard, mother, Gertrude, and some of Diane's close friends, and about two hundred others did contribute. Having read Lubow's book, I see where he used Bosworth's biography as a resource. It is also interesting to see how much time has changed things. Many of the important or remarkable people Bosworth includes in her biography as reference points are unknown now. One, Richard Avedon, is still known, if for no other reason that a biography has just come out on his own life. The others you'll be lucky to find a Wikipedia bio. Arbus was a sad, tragic figure. She grew up in a rich, privileged home on Park Avenue with nannies and servants. Her parents were self-made businessmen whose families escaped the Jewish pogroms of Europe and created wealth through the fur coat business. The only thing her parents did not provide her or her brother and sister with was love, affection and attention. Gertrude Nemerov, Diane's mother, was self-absorbed and suffered from acute depression. David, her father, played mind games with his children. When he was angry with them he completely withdrew until he chose to "forgive" them. Diane, according to her own accounts was already showing signs of emotional disturbance at a young age. In fact she sounds like she may have suffered from Radical Attachment Disorder, something children from neglected households can develop. Whatever the reasons, Diane's heart gravitated toward the deviant and marginalized in society, "freaks" as she called them. Her photographs focus on circus entertainers, midgets, giants, deformed people as well as the grungier streets of New York City. A large part of her repertoire include transvestites, lesbians, and drug addicts. Arbus said that everyone has a secret and she wanted to pull that secret out of them with her camera. She was largely unrecognized during her life time. Many found her photos to be repulsive. Since her death in 1971 she has been considered one of the defining photographers of the sixties.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Katie Jo

    I have never read a bio as engrossing as this. It reads like a novel and Diane Arbus is so bizarre and interesting that even the most trivial aspects of her life kept my attention. Apparently the movie Fur (one of my long time favorites) is based on this particular biography, but after reading it I see little connection, even knowing that the movie was intentionally very loosely referenced. Diane was a really fascinating person, and to be so famously mysterious a person I was impressed by how re I have never read a bio as engrossing as this. It reads like a novel and Diane Arbus is so bizarre and interesting that even the most trivial aspects of her life kept my attention. Apparently the movie Fur (one of my long time favorites) is based on this particular biography, but after reading it I see little connection, even knowing that the movie was intentionally very loosely referenced. Diane was a really fascinating person, and to be so famously mysterious a person I was impressed by how remarkably intimate Bosworth's portrait of her felt- she really did her homework. I typically have a hard time reading biographies (I prefer a first-person narrative) but I truly enjoyed this as much as I would a novel. The only bio I've read that rivals its readability is Alex Haley's of Malcolm X. Would absolutely recommend.

  7. 5 out of 5

    K

    This book was filled with great ideas from a great artist about what photography is, was, can be, would be, to be. Although I find in many reviews people complain that it wasn't intamite enough, I find that a biography doesn't have to divulge every secret in order to be great. There was a secret behind each of her photos as there was behind her life and should the book as well. A great read with refrences to other artists, such as Mary and Robert Frank, that were worth checking out if you weren' This book was filled with great ideas from a great artist about what photography is, was, can be, would be, to be. Although I find in many reviews people complain that it wasn't intamite enough, I find that a biography doesn't have to divulge every secret in order to be great. There was a secret behind each of her photos as there was behind her life and should the book as well. A great read with refrences to other artists, such as Mary and Robert Frank, that were worth checking out if you weren't already familiar with their work. Slow at parts and she repeated facts a few times, but she worked well with the information she had to create a strong and enthralling biography.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl Diane Kidder

    You get the impression, when reading this book, that the family had approval of every word. It's too bad that the real story of her life may never be told. Maybe one day one of her children will attempt that. Still, engrossing reading. Like trying to solve a mystery: where did this woman come from, how did her vision develop, what, ultimately happened to her. Great companion book to have read before seeing the wonderful film "Fur". You get the impression, when reading this book, that the family had approval of every word. It's too bad that the real story of her life may never be told. Maybe one day one of her children will attempt that. Still, engrossing reading. Like trying to solve a mystery: where did this woman come from, how did her vision develop, what, ultimately happened to her. Great companion book to have read before seeing the wonderful film "Fur".

  9. 4 out of 5

    marie monroe

    Once you see her images and know her time you have to know who she is. She was a woman who said she didn't become a photographer until late in life (38!) because a woman spends the first half of her life getting married and having children. She was right. But,she changed art. Not an easy thing to do. Changing art means that whoever comes next to make art can start where that change-agent left off. Changing art rockets us to creative hyperspace and this woman is probably one of the most important p Once you see her images and know her time you have to know who she is. She was a woman who said she didn't become a photographer until late in life (38!) because a woman spends the first half of her life getting married and having children. She was right. But,she changed art. Not an easy thing to do. Changing art means that whoever comes next to make art can start where that change-agent left off. Changing art rockets us to creative hyperspace and this woman is probably one of the most important photographers ever. Time will tell and has been shouting about her ever since she began her second career, but I want to say more. I want to say throw in the painters and sculptors, too, and she still rises to the top. The people she confronted in her work were confronted gently and harshly, but with the greatest compassion. I mean, the images are psychologically brash, deeply disturbing and her subjects allowed her intrusion because she was kind and loved them for who they were. They are people we would never have met, but suspected (perhaps) that they are out there. They are us turned inside out, upside down, in our nightmares and deepest anguish. She went head on into them as she went into her own deep and disturbing places, the places we all have. Her difference, I think, is that she was incredibly brave.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Velvetink

    A lot of Arbus's life in this that was new to me. It seemed though to be rather weighty at the beginning about her younger life in terms of facts and information compared to her later years which seemed to me to be glossed over through lack of information & in many instances mini bio's of people Arbus was associated with were used as filler. While Bosworth says at the start the family wouldn't talk to her for the book, there are a lot of quotes from various family members. I was stunned to read A lot of Arbus's life in this that was new to me. It seemed though to be rather weighty at the beginning about her younger life in terms of facts and information compared to her later years which seemed to me to be glossed over through lack of information & in many instances mini bio's of people Arbus was associated with were used as filler. While Bosworth says at the start the family wouldn't talk to her for the book, there are a lot of quotes from various family members. I was stunned to read that Arbus's work extends into thousands & thousands of prints and most have not been published or seen and for whatever reason the family is holding onto those works. Bosworth mentions Diane's depression throughout and her subsequent suicide, but does not go far enough to any sort of resolution. There's a lot not said, or perhaps not known, although some portion of blame is assigned to her illness of hepatitis & toxic effects of medications and it would be interesting to hear other views.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Adrienne

    ok full of 'i knew diane qutoes from the nanny of her cousin who she hardly met, the obscure aunt who only saw her once, jerry her dads ex sales ladys (they were in the grament trade) ex husband who saw diane in the park once in her pram' ok i made those up but you get the picture. this book is padded out with quotes from 'hangers on' who, it would appear, the author couldn't possibly have spoken to because many where long gone when this was written and the back of the book is full to the brim o ok full of 'i knew diane qutoes from the nanny of her cousin who she hardly met, the obscure aunt who only saw her once, jerry her dads ex sales ladys (they were in the grament trade) ex husband who saw diane in the park once in her pram' ok i made those up but you get the picture. this book is padded out with quotes from 'hangers on' who, it would appear, the author couldn't possibly have spoken to because many where long gone when this was written and the back of the book is full to the brim of the auuthors sources, which identifies her as 'a brilliant researcher' but not someone who has an empathy with her subject. i wanted a book about diane, about her as a person and yes i know she was ver yprivate BUT that is were the true writer can work their magic...my search continues

  12. 5 out of 5

    Greta

    I really enjoyed this book. An interesting character study of an artist. Clearly, Diane Arbus was a very disturbed person. I personally feel that she is over rated as an artist. Interesting points 1)There is a lot in book to think about in regards to male dominance in the art world during her time... for ex. I cringed at too many moments where Diane of ehr own accord takes her photos to contemporary male artists to look over as they mark them up with grease pencils and advise her on what to do w I really enjoyed this book. An interesting character study of an artist. Clearly, Diane Arbus was a very disturbed person. I personally feel that she is over rated as an artist. Interesting points 1)There is a lot in book to think about in regards to male dominance in the art world during her time... for ex. I cringed at too many moments where Diane of ehr own accord takes her photos to contemporary male artists to look over as they mark them up with grease pencils and advise her on what to do with her work...arggh. 2) Diane used her camera like a weapon at times. I placed this book on my psychology shelf also because there is so much to ponder here in regards to her psychology and her art. Narcissism, passive aggressive behavior, depression, master manipulator all were interesting to see how they manifested in her life and artwork. 3) you can gain a sense of some of problems that wealth can create Downsides to this book: 1) an very annoying pattern of people putting Diane on a pedestal... this however fits her modus operendi as a manipulative person 2) author gives Diane a pass on many disturbing behaviors 3) author clearly on deck with philosophy of "freaks" as she talks about "retardates" and the like. 4) Diane is clearly user that suctions like an octopus off others difficulties......there are scenes where she literally chases and follows

  13. 4 out of 5

    Richard

    Her first encounter with the camera that became her signature motif began when she met Allan Arbus, a young photographer several years older than her who did photo shoots for her parents store, with whom she fell in love, later married, divorced but clung to for the rest of her life nonetheless. It was Allan who learned the technical aspect of photography in the military that in turn taught Diane how to process film but it was she who had the eye for photo composition. Her contemporaries includi Her first encounter with the camera that became her signature motif began when she met Allan Arbus, a young photographer several years older than her who did photo shoots for her parents store, with whom she fell in love, later married, divorced but clung to for the rest of her life nonetheless. It was Allan who learned the technical aspect of photography in the military that in turn taught Diane how to process film but it was she who had the eye for photo composition. Her contemporaries including Richard Avedon, Gary Winogrand, Bruce Davidson made huge names for themselves, much of the time doing commercial or fashion photography even becoming very wealthy in the process like Avedon but when you look at a Diane Arbus photo you know that you’re seeing the product of pure genius, of someone that is seeing the subject in a way that you never could have imagined. For Arbus, it appears as if through the camera was a shield to hide behind but as her skills developed it became that and more – a way for her to brave her way into otherwise unimaginable worlds. Taking photos was almost becoming the other, stepping literally and figuratively into the lives of her subjects through the medium of the camera to break through the prison that her family bound her up in as a child. Long suffering from depression which ran in her mother’s family, during her later years her behavior became increasingly erratic, often dangerous particularly for a woman in the 1950/60’s. Though not stated, I couldn’t help but think she was exhibiting schizophrenic traits as self-destructiveness was similar to the kind of thing the famous bassist Jaco Pastorius (Weather Report) engaged in prior to his untimely death. Arbus died at the age of 48 in 1971 leaving a huge body of work behind and an extraordinary promise unfulfilled. Many of her friends say that she had a childlike way about her that belied her inner complexities and drive. It was this innocence that underlies her ongoing fascination with her subjects – including the famous photos of the angry boy with the toy hand grenade, the twin girls dressed alike or the wealthy couple in their backyard of their Long Island estate. During her lifetime few if any of these pictures made it into a collection and she continued to make a meager living doing a fashion shoot or a piece for the New Yorker to cover the rent. When asked why she rejected the offers to publish her work she would say because no one understands these subjects like I do. Maybe so, you’ll have to look at her work to find out for yourself.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Martha

    In June, I visited the photography collection of the Museum of Modern Art where I saw several portraits by Diane Arbus, whose work has fascinated me since I first encountered it in a college photography class. Later that week, I learned that Nicole Kidman was set to star in “Fur,” an adaptation of Patricia Bosworth’s Arbus biography. Then the August issue of Vanity Fair included an article about the film’s production history. I finally took these cosmic hints and brought Bosworth’s book on vacat In June, I visited the photography collection of the Museum of Modern Art where I saw several portraits by Diane Arbus, whose work has fascinated me since I first encountered it in a college photography class. Later that week, I learned that Nicole Kidman was set to star in “Fur,” an adaptation of Patricia Bosworth’s Arbus biography. Then the August issue of Vanity Fair included an article about the film’s production history. I finally took these cosmic hints and brought Bosworth’s book on vacation at the Jersey Shore, where the beach was populated by an assortment of oddballs that Arbus would have loved. Arbus made her mark in the 1960’s with her photos of people on the fringes of society — nudists, cross-dressers, circus performers. According to Bosworth, Arbus’ work “drastically altered our sense of what is permissable in photography.” Her photographs were weird, creepy, eccentric, and captivating; apparently so was she. Bosworth traces the roots of Arbus’ work (and her 1971 suicide) to her affluent Manhattan childhood. Accompanied by her French governess on a stroll from her Park Avenue apartment to Central Park, Arbus became fascinated by a Hooverville shantytown. Her interest in unconventional lives never waned. Bosworth’s coverage of Arbus’ adult years offers an interesting glimpse into the New York art scene of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Arbus crossed paths with many of the major photographers of her day, including Walker Evans, Richard Avedon, Weegee, Robert Franks, and Garry Winogrand. Young readers unfamiliar with these artists and other luminaries of the 20th century won’t get much help from Bosworth, who makes frequent unexplained references to people and places. Also frustrating, is the absence of Arbus images in the book; her estate refused to cooperate with Bosworth. So if you’re planning to read this detailed account of Arbus’ life, be sure to check out a collection of her photographs. To see samples of her work, visit the Metropolitan Museum online.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    Got a good sense of Diane, her circles and the era in general. A nice snapshot of the burdens and difficulties of growing up super rich, as well as the workings & pathologies of Diane & the art world. Personally, I found Diane to be a very mentally disturbed person that lacked basic compassion or empathy for people. I do think she was a talented photographer. The way she operated in the world and with people is quite disturbing. Her descent is not surprising. The author clearly is fan, giving Di Got a good sense of Diane, her circles and the era in general. A nice snapshot of the burdens and difficulties of growing up super rich, as well as the workings & pathologies of Diane & the art world. Personally, I found Diane to be a very mentally disturbed person that lacked basic compassion or empathy for people. I do think she was a talented photographer. The way she operated in the world and with people is quite disturbing. Her descent is not surprising. The author clearly is fan, giving Diane the special snowflake treatment throughout the book. She and Daine's circle, revel in Diane's more abhorrent behaviors, and the author calls people "freaks" and "retardates" over and over again; as well nastily describing fat ladies "waddling" in shockingly brutal, insensitive ways. It's no surprise she's a fan of Diane Arbus. 2 peas in a pod. People end up damaged in life, and messed up. So went Diane. I do feel sorry for her and her story is so fascinating, as well as tragic. How her problems manifested in her art through her approach, subject, and philosophy is especially fascinating. I do like many of her pictures, and appreciate her being a woman artist. But I don't like or agree with how sometimes treated her subjects, got her shots, or what she thought of her subjects. The author includes many other interesting people, workings of the art world, family, social, and cultural life of the eras that are equally fascinating. I would highly recommend the book, especially of you like photography and women artists.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Anna

    An interesting and troublesome book for me. Arbus's development as a photographer was more gripping than the stories of her career. Her family retains the rights to her work and, according to author Bosworth, refused to grant permission to reproduce any of her photographs; the book suffers for it. Additionally, some research into depression might not be amiss for a biography of someone who committed suicide. If Bosworth did any such research, it doesn't come through. Perhaps she didn't want her An interesting and troublesome book for me. Arbus's development as a photographer was more gripping than the stories of her career. Her family retains the rights to her work and, according to author Bosworth, refused to grant permission to reproduce any of her photographs; the book suffers for it. Additionally, some research into depression might not be amiss for a biography of someone who committed suicide. If Bosworth did any such research, it doesn't come through. Perhaps she didn't want her work to be seen through that particular lens, but the result is a book more insightful into its own author and the thrall with which she beheld her subject than into Arbus herself.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Lenore Riegel

    Just finishing this and I am enthralled. Wonderfully researched, beautifully written - a picture of Diane Arbus as fascinating as any of her photographs. Looking forward to reading more Patricia Bosworth. By the way, I downloaded the eBook from Open Road Media.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Arthur Hoyle

    Interesting account of the life and career of a tortured photography artist whose photos document her descent into madness and suicide. Arbus was attracted to the margins of human experience, then fell off the edge.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Cait

    Photographer- Biography. interesting details from Arbus' life but the writing is not very engaging. Photographer- Biography. interesting details from Arbus' life but the writing is not very engaging.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sacha

    Interesting for historical value. Sad as a human story. Just okay as a book: author was rather too enamored of her subject in my humble opinion.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    never so shallow a book about so complex a personality...total trash

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer Cannady

    I found myself conflicted on this book for rating. On the one hand, it has kept me pondering and sparked my curiosity about Arbus’ photos so that would typically justify 4 stars. However there were a few things that prevent me from rating it higher. As with any biography the subject is being presented by the author and while this one appears to have done extensive research and interviews some of those interviewed seem very peripheral to the subject’s life. The important fact that the Arbus estat I found myself conflicted on this book for rating. On the one hand, it has kept me pondering and sparked my curiosity about Arbus’ photos so that would typically justify 4 stars. However there were a few things that prevent me from rating it higher. As with any biography the subject is being presented by the author and while this one appears to have done extensive research and interviews some of those interviewed seem very peripheral to the subject’s life. The important fact that the Arbus estate controlled primarily by the eldest daughter, Doon, did not cooperate with this book is a major weakness in fully fleshing out Diane (pronounced Dee Ann). The weakness is not only missing the perspective of those closest to Diane but her actual work. I found myself constantly stopping to google images of seminal work that was described in the book but could not include it. I also was surprised that such heavily researched work results in at least one factual error, the author has the title of Pati Hill’s novel wrong. It made me wonder if other errors of fact were there but I just didn’t catch them. The author also uses really offensive terms to describe some subjects of Diane’s work though I suspect at the time this was written she just didn’t know better. Finally I found the disregard for the younger daughter, Amy very odd. Did the author just not find anything interesting about Amy? The most we hear is she once had a “weight problem “. Amy Arbus is an accomplished photographer in her own right. Perhaps at the time of writing she was not yet pursuing photography but the author still devoted a ton more coverage to the relationship of Diane to her goddaughter May Elliot than to her daughter Amy. One wonders if that is solely due to May Elliot cooperating with the author or not Finally what to think of Diane. She was frankly not a very likable person based on this account. She seemed self absorbed to the extreme and exploitive of her subjects. The work itself? I do think you get a good overview of modern photography and how Arbus fits in to this art form. I am interested now to see an exhibit of her work so in that way the book was successful

  23. 5 out of 5

    Magdalena

    Diane (Dee-Ann) Arbus was an American photographer (with a Jewish-Polish ancestry) from NYC. Her most famous photograph is of the TWINS which inspired Stanley Kubricks' "twin characters" in The Shining! He was originally a photographer which is why he was exposed (pun!) to her photographs in the first place. A surprising photograph she took was of the anchor Anderson Cooper as a baby! If you didn't know he comes from a wealthy family "The Vanderbilts" and so his mom, Gloria Vanderbilt, commission Diane (Dee-Ann) Arbus was an American photographer (with a Jewish-Polish ancestry) from NYC. Her most famous photograph is of the TWINS which inspired Stanley Kubricks' "twin characters" in The Shining! He was originally a photographer which is why he was exposed (pun!) to her photographs in the first place. A surprising photograph she took was of the anchor Anderson Cooper as a baby! If you didn't know he comes from a wealthy family "The Vanderbilts" and so his mom, Gloria Vanderbilt, commissioned Arbus to photograph her baby. Arbus grew up on Central Park West in a well to do family being cared for by nannies. Her father made a fortune selling furs in the 1920's. Her life story is about climbing down the social ladder. Interestingly she hated being associated as a "rich kid." She died young (at 48 in 1971) because she committed suicide at a time in her life when she felt she could no longer achieve the photographs she'd envisioned, suffered depression, was divorced and her kids had grown up and left home.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Linda

    I loved the story of how her family came to this country and succeeded in creating a dept. store. They lived in some famous buildings in NYC and she had a relatively good life as a child. Parental involvement does not play much of a role and there is little known about her relationship with her mother. She and her brother were very close until she married in her late teens. She is always searching for something, which is very true of this period 1950-1960's NYC. Once she and her husband not longe I loved the story of how her family came to this country and succeeded in creating a dept. store. They lived in some famous buildings in NYC and she had a relatively good life as a child. Parental involvement does not play much of a role and there is little known about her relationship with her mother. She and her brother were very close until she married in her late teens. She is always searching for something, which is very true of this period 1950-1960's NYC. Once she and her husband not longer have the symbiotic relationship she was comfortable in, her turmoil begins. She tries to find herself in various ways, always through photography. She is willing to try anything and is really daring for a woman, even in the 1960's. It is apparent she is emotionally distraught and suffers depression. It is unfortunate that at that time, depression wasn't in the forefront of the news as it is today. She felt very alone and her life, even though seeming successful, did not bring her any sense of joy or fulfillment.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Chloe Noland

    Thoughtful, detailed, extremely poignant and loving biography of one of my favorite artists. I have always been fascinated and moved by her photography, but I was surprised to find Arbus so relatable, in terms of her struggle between the power of her inner world and outside reality. It was really heartbreaking to realize that this inability to negotiate with her demons is what ultimately caused her death. I really appreciated the author's insights into her childhood, her relationships, and adult Thoughtful, detailed, extremely poignant and loving biography of one of my favorite artists. I have always been fascinated and moved by her photography, but I was surprised to find Arbus so relatable, in terms of her struggle between the power of her inner world and outside reality. It was really heartbreaking to realize that this inability to negotiate with her demons is what ultimately caused her death. I really appreciated the author's insights into her childhood, her relationships, and adult conceptions of the world. I feel I will now use this context to view her portraiture in a more thorough way, not just to be shocked by the perversity of the images. It speaks to the time period she lived in that Arbus was devastated to be seen as merely a photographer of "freaks." This was a cheapening and pigeon-holing of what she was trying to accomplish as an artist, and I think her work would've been viewed very differently today -- for better or worse, who's to say.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Regina Stevens

    A fascinating roller coaster ride of obsessive personal relationships, and continual self discovery. Patricia Bosworth neatly outlines the influences of Diane’s early years and ties to her family as her life story unfolds. The New York art world is a key player in the story including the artists and contemporaries who were socially and artistically relevant to her life and work. I found it useful to have a search engine handy to help illustrate the many historical references and images. I was m A fascinating roller coaster ride of obsessive personal relationships, and continual self discovery. Patricia Bosworth neatly outlines the influences of Diane’s early years and ties to her family as her life story unfolds. The New York art world is a key player in the story including the artists and contemporaries who were socially and artistically relevant to her life and work. I found it useful to have a search engine handy to help illustrate the many historical references and images. I was moved by the scope of Diane Arbus' ambition and talent, her overwhelming drive to delve deep into her soul to find her voice and then to continue to live with those demons once they were released. Sadly Diane struggled up until the end with her depressions, raw emotions toward public opinion, and wavering self confidence.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Julia Griffin

    An interesting and seemingly clear-eyed biography of a seminal modern photographer. This book is full of information about photography as an art form, the history of modern American photography, as well as a delve into the troubled life of Arbus. Read it slowly and thoroughly (it was my companion for almost three months on the john), enjoyed it very much. The ending, while I was prepared for it, was still totally heartbreaking. Knowing her life and the people around her made her death feel like a An interesting and seemingly clear-eyed biography of a seminal modern photographer. This book is full of information about photography as an art form, the history of modern American photography, as well as a delve into the troubled life of Arbus. Read it slowly and thoroughly (it was my companion for almost three months on the john), enjoyed it very much. The ending, while I was prepared for it, was still totally heartbreaking. Knowing her life and the people around her made her death feel like an even bigger tragedy. A lot about the history of being a female artists and a woman in a shifting century, pulled both ways by opposing values. Would recommend.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Martyna

    Bosworth on every page of this biography proves the rightness of calling Arbus a real artist and a great photographer. Facts from Arbus's life show two completely different faces of the artist. On the one hand, Bosworth presents Diane as a shy, delicate, somewhat lost girl, on the other hand, she shows her as a very curious, sometimes even insolent person, with a lush erotic life. All I missed was some photographies, although several of those were described. Of course, they can be found on the In Bosworth on every page of this biography proves the rightness of calling Arbus a real artist and a great photographer. Facts from Arbus's life show two completely different faces of the artist. On the one hand, Bosworth presents Diane as a shy, delicate, somewhat lost girl, on the other hand, she shows her as a very curious, sometimes even insolent person, with a lush erotic life. All I missed was some photographies, although several of those were described. Of course, they can be found on the Internet, but when you read a book, the computer is usually far away. You have to use your imagination, which is known to be unreliable.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Carmen

    I saw her 1972 show at MOMA in New York and had to buy a copy of "DIANE ARBUS: An Aperture Monograph" with the precious few dollars that I had before leaving, but up until now I really knew nothing about her life. Like many bios it was a bit slow going at first reading about her grandparents and such. I felt the same about her parents and childhood, but I realized later just how important that info was is in trying to understand her. The author sometimes back tracks which makes the chronology a I saw her 1972 show at MOMA in New York and had to buy a copy of "DIANE ARBUS: An Aperture Monograph" with the precious few dollars that I had before leaving, but up until now I really knew nothing about her life. Like many bios it was a bit slow going at first reading about her grandparents and such. I felt the same about her parents and childhood, but I realized later just how important that info was is in trying to understand her. The author sometimes back tracks which makes the chronology a bit confusing at time. But overall iy was well researched and written.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    Diane Arbus was a great photographer. She had the ability to take photos that looked into the souls of her subjects. Her subjects were often on the fringe of society and were referred to as freaks, but that never caused her to turn away. If you are unfamiliar with her works or her life this book gives you good insight. If you are already a fan of hers you will find this book lacking on information concerning her family life. Although it is very readable it lacks information.

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