Document Type


Publication Date

Spring 2021


The late Diane Arbus once said, “Everybody has that thing where they need to look one way but they come out looking another way and that’s what people observe. You see someone on the street and essentially what you notice about them is the flaw…there’s a point between what you want people to know about you and what you can’t help people knowing about you.”[1] Arbus was aware that no one is exempt from others’ gaze, including herself, a theme repeated throughout her work. In this essay, I will be examining the work of Diane Arbus that showed intimate snippets of the lives of those that would be labeled as “freaks”, “disabled”, “handicapped”, “grotesque”, and other terms that were often used to be degrading or dehumanizing. I will be specifically focusing on her photographs that depict subjects with visual bodily ‘abnormalities’ as well as disabled bodies. Diane Arbus, according to her critics, is one of the first key figures to have focused her work on people with such visual differences, living their daily life, through the evidential medium of photography. I argue that the criticisms Diane Arbus faced from art critics, institutions, and the public for her work were unfair. Those who criticized Arbus did so unjustly, for they compared the people Arbus photographed to a traditional standard of beauty found in art. Her critics also failed to examine Arbus’ own personal struggles as well as her intent to document her participants. Arbus purposefully photographed her participants functionally and contentedly living their own lives. To fairly analyze Arbus’ work, I will be examining the many factors that played into her personal life, career life, the world she and her participants lived in, and the effect they all left on art and ethics today.

[1] Diane Arbus, Diane Arbus. (Millerton, N.Y: Aperture, 1972.), 1-2.