When Diane Arbus took her own life July 26, 1971, she was at the top of a career that had taken her from relative success as a fashion photographer in the 1950s to becoming one of the most esteemed contemporary art photographers of her time. She gained legendary status shortly after her death. Arbus’ photographs have often been interpreted as testimonies of her biography. This interpretation may have increased the popularity of her photographs, but has overshadowed aspects that are equally interesting.
Arbus’ daughters Amy and Doon Arbus have protected her interests with a keen eye on how her heritage has been managed. Copyright laws have been stringent and relatively few works have circulated in exhibitions, publications and on the art market. Only with long intervals have the Estate of Diane Arbus released previously unpublished material from her archive. The Estate has also been restrictive in the use of her works as illustrations. The author of the only biography on Arbus, published in 1984, was not allowed to reprint her photographs in the book. This has resulted in a reception of her work that rests on a small number of photographs only; primarily those circulated in exhibitions and in books published in the 1970s. As we know that Arbus was a remarkably active photographer – always with her camera close at hand – there is reason to believe that our understanding of what her art represents will be modified and elaborated as the knowledge of her body of work emerges.