cover image Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer

Diane Arbus: Portrait of a Photographer

Arthur Lubow. Ecco, $35 (736p) ISBN 978-0-06-223432-2

With 12 years of scrupulous research and a critic’s eye, Lubow turned a routine magazine assignment for the New York Times into the defining biography of photographer Diane Arbus, whose portraits of twins, circus freaks, and transvestites, among many others, established her as one of the leading artists of the 20th century. With few exceptions, Arbus’s preferred subjects were “the obscure over the celebrated, victims of power over its agents.” Lubow follows her life from her birth into an upper-class Jewish family in N.Y.C. in 1923; through her early marriage and subsequent fashion photography partnership with her husband, Allan; to the birth of their two daughters and their later divorce; and finally to her solo career with its monographs and museum exhibitions. The book explores how Arbus’s lifelong depression, an incestuous relationship with her poet brother, other damaging love affairs, and ongoing financial distress may have led to her suicide at age 48. Relying primarily on interviews with friends, lovers, and colleagues, as well as Arbus’s previously unavailable correspondence, Lubow provides not only a comprehensive assessment of her groundbreaking work but, perhaps more significantly, a revealing documentary of Arbus’s often-tortured life. The biography’s only flaw is the lack of Arbus’s photos (the estate denied access); Lubow is forced to rely on wordy descriptions and exhaustive citations. But fans of her work will have no trouble calling up the iconographic portraits from their personal memory banks. And as Arbus frequently acknowledged, “The subject... is always more important than the picture.” Agent: Elyse Cheney, Elyse Cheney Literary. (June)