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Diane Arbus: A Biography Paperback – February, 1995

38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews Review

Opportunities for sensationalism abound in a book about Arbus, who already had a history of severe depressions and a crumbling marriage by the time she began to take the controversial, technically innovative pictures of dwarfs, nudists and drag queens that won her a reputation as "a photographer of freaks." Bosworth balances the lurid details -- rumors that Arbus had sex with her subjects, that she photographed her own suicide in 1971 -- with a nuanced appraisal of an artist whose images captured the uneasy mood of the 1960s by expressing her personal obsessions.

From Publishers Weekly

Examines the life of the famous photographer, which culminated in suicide in 1971, in terms of her famous images of the grotesque and aberrant.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 366 pages
  • Publisher: W W Norton & Co Inc (February 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393312070
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393312072
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,252,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

74 of 85 people found the following review helpful By Bob Willard on December 12, 2002
Format: Paperback
If you study the following two books you likely will realize that Diane Arbus was a genius: "An Aperture Monograph" and "Diane Arbus: Magazine Work." If you've ever tried to be a good photographer, even as a total amateur, you will appreciate her genius even more.
Bravo to Patricia Bosworth for interviewing so many people who are gone now! The following people who knew Diane or who studied her work while she was alive made comments to Bosworth shortly before *they* died: Andy Warhol, Lisette Model, Garry Winogrand, John Putnam (art director of Mad magazine for many years), Bernard Malamud (a friend of Diane's brother Howard Nemerov) and Irving Mansfield (immortalized in an Arbus print as an insecure, greedy man letting his sleazebag wife Jacqueline Susann sit on his bare thighs).
Ever heard of Gail Sheehy, author of the 1970s classic "Passages" that all women pursuing careers in social work and medicine used to read? She's still alive, and you can read in Ms. Bosworth's biography about her encounters with Diane before she (Gail) became famous for "Passages."
Bosworth presents eyewitness testimony about Diane's clinical depression along with medical records. But Bosworth wisely declines to speculate on why the depression persisted for so long or why Diane refused to take lithium shortly after it hit the market in 1970. (Come to think of it, Bosworth omitted that "lithium" detail from the book but divulged it in an interview she did with Popular Photography magazine for their December 1984 issue.)
I'm glad Bosworth annoyed people by presenting evidence but no insight. Here's the only insight she could have provided, and it would have annoyed readers even more.
Read more ›
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Duane Allman on August 1, 1999
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Diane Arbus was the child of immigrant parents, and grew up exploring her potential set against the backdrop of the 50's, 60's and 70's. Her husband, actor Allan Arbus was also an artist looking for his potential. Hers in photography, his in acting.
If there is a down side to the book, it is that it is pretty well factual, with very good and close sources, but the book starts to fade when the author explores Diane's later years. Was this woman, born into a family where depression had been discovered in her mother really depressed because of a failed marriage? The author opines to the affirmative. Or was it something more? The book only gives us a glimpse of Allan's troubled reaction to her depression.
I believe a more indepth study into the soul of this woman would have shown dramatically the tragedy of her death. Set in the time period, our society was not cognizant or nor able to recognize signals in mental depression. There are many examples in the book of how Diane was attempting to overcome the demons.
All in all, I found the book interesting and well written.
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12 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 28, 1997
Format: Paperback
Patrica Bosworth's biography of Diane Arbus is an exellent book.It gives a clear and comprehensive story of Arbus's life,from her comfortable background as a daughter of a Jewish New York merchant family through her early adulthood as the wife and photographic partner of her husband Allan,through the time after her marriage when she was one of the important people on the NY cultural scene,to her disturbing "adventures" and early, tragic death at her own hand. She could not have realized how her influence would be felt so many years after her death,and this book is the only one that does justice to the life and effect of Diane Arbus. Buy it! Read it!
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Bucherwurm on April 23, 1998
Format: Paperback
The author presents a well balanced accounting of the somewhat tragic life of this important, innovative photographer. Diane Arbus had significant talent, and it is amazing that she continued to produce outstanding work when burdened with a serious chronic depression. The author also impresses us with Arbus's special ability to coax almost anybody to pose for her. If she had lacked this skill, many of her portraits would never have come into being. This is a must read for those interested in the history of photography.
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20 of 24 people found the following review helpful By Lane M. Collins on February 10, 2008
Format: Paperback
I can't say I really liked this book. In the early stages of the biography I thoroughly enjoyed reading about Diane's childhood, but the author does too much fawning over Diane and repeatedly talks about how gifted she was. Yes, I think we all appreciate that fact, now let's move on and get to the core of who she was. ...Except I don't necessarily feel that this book ever truly did that. There were some interesting insights, but I constantly felt far too removed from the real Diane. Each piece of information I felt I could really sink my teeth into was buried between pages and pages of repetitive or useless (to me, anyway) information.

Throughout the book I felt Bosworth also spent too much time detailing a large number of Diane's friends and acquaintances. Family, close friends and mentors are certainly key in any biography, but the deeper I got into the book, the more I found myself skimming over chunks of text, searching for what (if much of anything) these relationships MEANT to her life rather than tedious details about a person she only met a couple of times.

I was also disappointed in the lack of reflection on Arbus's death at the end of the book. I had expected many more thoughts on that, or maybe even a bit of discussion on her legacy, and how her work is now received. Instead, the book ends with her death.

In short: If you want to know more about Arbus, read the book, but be prepared to skim.
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