Diane Arbus (March 14, 1923 July 26, 1971) was a famous American female photographer, best known for her uncompromising black-and-white photographs of eccentrics, the handicapped, sideshow performers or otherwise normal people who just happened to be shot in a particularly disturbing or even creepy way. Arbus started her career as a fashion photographer but gradually devoted her attention to people outside the margins of mainstream society.
Arbus' work has always remained controversial. Some people were scared of her work; others, like Susan Sontag, felt she exploited other people's handicaps and eccentricities for sensationalist ends. Yet, before she took even one snapshot, Arbus always went through great lengths to talk and get to know the people she portrayed and felt that she showed people and things that would never be seen in public otherwise. Her work played with the fear of the unknown and confronted spectators with the fact that their first reaction is usually fear or mockery of the portrayed people. On the other hand, she was increasingly aware that she was being pigeonholed as nothing more than "a photographer of freaks". Her depression finally took over and in 1971. she died of suicide.
Her husband was Allan Arbus, best known as Dr. Sidney Freedman on M*A*S*H. Her life story was turned into the fictional biopic Fur: An Imaginary Portrait of Diane Arbus (2006) (for those interested: the film has hardly anything to do with her life).
This artist's work provides examples of the following tropes
- Ambiguous Gender: Arbus took photographs of transsexuals and transvestites, among others.
- Body Horror: A frequent topic.
- Circus of Fear: Arbus visited carnivals and sideshows to photograph some of the weird people who entertained audiences by showing off their handicaps and eccentricities.
- Come to Gawk: Her work dwells on this human aspect.
- Cosmetic Horror: Some of the men and women Arbus' photographed wear the strangest make-up and costumes. A few of them border into the Uncanny Valley Makeup.
- Creepy Child: She has made several pictures of babies, children, and youngsters that have something haunting or otherworldly about them.
- "Jewish Giant at home with his parents" shows Eddie Carmel, who suffered from gigantism, rising up from his sofa while his parents stand next to him. The expression of fear in his mother's eyes is unforgettable.
- Creepy Twins: Arbus' most iconic photographs, Identical Twins, Roselle, New Jersey, 1967, shows two twin girls staring at the camera. One of them has a slight smile, the other a slight frown. Their parents felt it was the "worst likeness of the twins they had ever seen." This inspired the two ghost girls from The Shining.
- Deliberately Monochrome: All her work was shot in black-and-white.
- Hiding the Handicap: Subverted. Arbus devoted much attention to physically and mentally handicapped people in her work.
- It Is Pronounced "Tro-PAY": Her first name is actually pronounced "dee-ANN".
- Little People Are Surreal: Little people are prominent in her work.
- The Mentally Disturbed: Arbus devoted an entire series of photographs to people who were mentally handicapped.
- She herself suffered from depression, which finally caused her to commit suicide.
- Nightmare Face: Some people have this expression in her work. A notable example is the little boy in "Child with Toy Hand Grenade in Central Park, N.Y.C. 1962".
- Arbus did sometimes subvert this trope. A picture of a wheelchair patient with a hideous face turns out to be just a Halloween mask of a witch on closer inspection.
- Nightmare Fetishist: Diane Arbus herself seemed to fall into this trope for most people. Her fascination with the other side of society and everything that's odd and creepy dominated the work she is best known for.
- Nudism: Arbus took photographs of nudists as well.
- Shout-Out: The twin girls in Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining appear to be reminiscent of Arbus' iconic photograph of two female twins of the same age.
- Spooky Photographs: Most of them have a creepy, disturbing atmosphere about them. Even pictures of seemingly "normal" scenes get a weird or nightmarish connotation, just by the way they're shot.
- Tattoo as Character Type: Arbus photographed a man at a carnival, tattooed over his entire body.
- The Treachery of Images and Willing Suspension of Disbelief: Some of her photographs are concerned with the superficiality of certain people and things. People try to be someone of something they aren't and look fake or unreal while they're trying. "Blonde girl with shiny lipstick", for instance, shows a woman in full make-up who looks less attractive and more like a lifeless Barbie doll. Arbus also photographed certain locations in this mindset: a haunted house, a Disneyland castle by night, a fake forest background, an overly decorated Christmas tree...all come across as a Special Effects Failure.
- In a way, Arbus' own work also falls into this trope. The images of the people she portrayed don't always correspond with how they normally behaved in real life. For instance, "Child with Toy Hand Grenade" shows a little boy making a scary face. He appears grotesque, even frightening, but earlier photographs, which Arbus didn't use, depict him as just a normal boy clowning around. The only reason he looks scary is that he was so fed up with posing for so long that he got angry and told her: "Just take the damn picture already!"
- Warts and All: People aren't portrayed at their most flattering in her work.
- Younger Than They Look:
- The couple in "Teenage Couple on Hudson Street, N.Y.C., 1963" wears long coats and have world-wise expressions that make them appear much older than they physically are.
- In one picture a man and his boy son are shown. Yet the boy is wearing adult clothing, causing him to look way older than his father.