Diane Arbus: In the Beginning exhibition

22 February 2019


Closes: 6th May 2019. Location: London

diane arbus: in the beginning
features nearly 100 photographs, around fifty of which have never been shown in Europe. They are all vintage prints from the Diane Arbus Archive at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The exhibition takes an in-depth look at the formative first half of Diane Arbus’ career, from 1956 to 1962.

The images displayed feature portraits of individuals across the spectrum of American society and traces Arbus’ growth from her early work with a 35mm camera to the distinctive square format she began using in 1962 (a 2 ¼-inch square-format Rolleiflex camera).

Arbus discovered most of her subjects in New York City where she depicted a cross-section of urban life, including portraits of couples and children, solitary city dwellers, carnival performers, strippers, and transvestites. It chronicles an extraordinarily prolific period in the artist’s career. Nearly half the photographs that Arbus printed during her lifetime were produced during these years, yet much of this early work remains little known.

Arbus first began making photographs in the early 1940s when she received a camera as a gift from her husband, Allan. Whilst working as a stylist in their fashion photography business for 15 years Arbus created her own pictures only intermittently, but in 1956 she numbered a roll of 35mm film #1, as if to symbolise the definitive beginning of her career as an artist.

Over the course of the next seven years Arbus’ photographic style evolved as she documented individuals and interacted closely with her chosen subjects. Arbus always believed she had something special to offer the world, a glimpse of its many secrets: “I do feel I have some slight corner on something about the quality of things. I mean it’s very subtle and a little embarrassing to me but I really believe there are things which nobody would see unless I photographed them.”

Each photograph is presented on an individual free-standing wall and visitors are encouraged to navigate their own individual routes through the exhibition, experiencing one-on-one encounters with these intimate works.

Other than A box of ten photographs , printed posthumously by Neil Selkirk, all of the photographs included in diane arbus: in the beginning are original gelatin silver prints made by the artist herself. The majority originate from the holdings of the Diane Arbus Archive, a remarkable treasury of photographs, negatives, and papers gifted to The Metropolitan Museum of Art (who organised this exhibition) in 2007 by the artist’s daughters, Doon Arbus and Amy Arbus, while others are drawn from select private collections in the U.S. A box of ten photographs has been lent by the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Upper galleries,
Hayward Gallery,
Southbank Centre,
Belvedere Road,

Website: https://www.southbankcentre.co.uk/whats-on/exhibitions/hayward-gallery-art/diane-arbus-beginning

Picture copyright: Mark Blower. Installation image of diane arbus: in the beginning.