She was born Diane Nemirov, the daughter of a Jewish couple that migrated to the United States of Russia. She started photographing already as a teenager at her parents’ request to help them advertise the shop she was running.
When she married Allan Arbus, her photographic career became more dynamic. They found a company and led the process of taking photos of models from scratch to finish. Diane played the role of an artistic director, coming up with concepts for sessions and helping models prepare. In mid-50s, she dropped this line of work to wander around the streets of New York, documenting marginalised people living on the outskirts of society.
She quickly became the ambassador of groups who ‘normal’ people would call freaks: LGBTQ+, strippers, nudists, people with physical impairments. By doing so, she sought to normalise their existence.
She was also a pioneer of using flashlight in daylight. Thanks to this trick, objects would be isolated from the background and their identity would be in the centre of the photograph.
She took her life 50 years ago at the age of 48. She suffered from depression.