discover diane arbus's early, unseen photographs of nyc eccentrics

A landmark exhibition of the street photography provocateur's earliest work opens at the Met Breuer later this summer.

by Hannah Ongley
27 May 2016, 3:50pm

met museum

In 1956, a 33-year-old Diane Arbus quit the commercial photography business after a decade shooting for big-name glossies — and hating almost every second of it. The self-confessed outsider began balancing a series of freelance fashion assignments with street portraits of other uncelebrated eccentrics, experimenting with elements of photography that are now known as her signatures. The intense, haunting, candid black-and-white snapshots of New York street life from the Lower East Side to Coney Island now make up an unprecedented exhibition opening at the Met Breuer later this summer. On display will be over 100 photographs taken by Arbus on her 35mm Nikon between 1956 and 1962. The majority of the pictures have never been seen by the public, only having been acquired by the museum in 2007 as part of a gift from the artist's daughters, Doon Arbus and Amy Arbus. 

Female impersonator holding long gloves, Hempstead, L.I. 1959

The stars of the show are people Arbus would continue to be drawn to until she took her own life in 1971 at the age of 48. Circus performers, female impersonators, and other cultural deviants mirror the artist's own vulnerability. Elderly women in pearl necklaces and fur coats appear emblematic of upper class, Fifth Avenue anxiety, while small children in button-down shirts often look straight from the set of horror films. The photographer's own age and angst can be felt in even the most overexposed and out-of-focus of these formative portraits. 

Jack Dracula at a Bar, New London, Conn. 1961

The Backwards Man in His Hotel Room, N.Y.C. 1961

Man in hat, trunks, socks and shoes, Coney Island, N.Y. 1960

Taxicab driver at the wheel with two passengers, N.Y.C. 1956

"Diane Arbus: The Beginning" is on show at the Met Breuer from July 12 through November 27, 2016. 


Text Hannah Ongley
Images copyright The Estate of Diane Arbus, LLC. All Rights Reserved

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