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Diane Arbus: A Biography

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,979 Ratings  ·  132 Reviews
Diane Arbus's unsettling photographs of dwarves and twins, transvestites and giants, both polarized and inspired, and her work had already become legendary when she committed suicide in 1971. This groundbreaking biography examines the private life behind Arbus's controversial art. The book deals with Arbus's pampered Manhattan childhood, her passionate marriage to Allan Ar ...more
Hardcover, 366 pages
Published May 12th 1984 by Knopf (first published 1984)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Dec 16, 2008 maria rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Arbus' family would not cooperate with Bosworth's biography, and the resulting lack of documentation really shows. It feels improvised and untrustworthy and is overall just pretty poorly written.

Looks like DIANE ARBUS REVELATIONS, a catalog of a huge retrospective organized by Arbus' family and SF MOMA, contains much better info (in addition to her actual photos, which Bosworth couldn't publish).
Mike Lester
May 24, 2012 Mike Lester rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What can I say? I suppose I could spout the usual claptrap about the artist breaking free from the bonds of conformity and commercial expectations. Sure. I could do that. But I'd rather not. There's so much more to say than that, but, the thing is, I'm not quite sure how to say it. Diane Arbus was such a singular artist. One who made her mark in a truly original way. To try to encapsulate her work into banal mantras would be to do her a great injustice; this was a woman who visually influenced K ...more
Jakki Newton
May 07, 2013 Jakki Newton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Diane Arbus frightens me. Her photographs frighten me (the faces of her subjects seem to stare straight into you), the way she always seemed to give herself away frightens me (her numerous sexual exploits, the confessionals that followed), and her suicide frightens me. I feel angry too. Angry that Allan Arbus left her for another women when she had sacrificed so much for him. I think their separation killed her. I feel angry about a comment at the end of the biography that people were bored with ...more
Apr 11, 2007 Anna rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: female artists and those interested in reading about them
An interesting and troublesome book for me. Arbus's development as a photographer was more gripping than the stories of her career. Her family retains the rights to her work and, according to author Bosworth, refused to grant permission to reproduce any of her photographs; the book suffers for it. Additionally, some research into depression might not be amiss for a biography of someone who committed suicide. If Bosworth did any such research, it doesn't come through. Perhaps she didn't want her ...more
Cheryl Diane Kidder
You get the impression, when reading this book, that the family had approval of every word. It's too bad that the real story of her life may never be told. Maybe one day one of her children will attempt that. Still, engrossing reading. Like trying to solve a mystery: where did this woman come from, how did her vision develop, what, ultimately happened to her. Great companion book to have read before seeing the wonderful film "Fur".
Jul 17, 2010 Terry rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Eh. The first third of the book is much stronger than the last two-thirds. Bosworth points out that Arbus was quite secretive about her daily life, and definitely liked to create her art A L O N E, so there is very little to say about, well, her and her art, because... no one really knows about it.

Unfortunately, Bosworth tries to focus on the creation of Arbus's art and the development of her artistic life when there just isn't enough information, and the book suffers. Once Arbus separates from
Jul 04, 2010 Velvetink rated it really liked it
A lot of Arbus's life in this that was new to me. It seemed though to be rather weighty at the beginning about her younger life in terms of facts and information compared to her later years which seemed to me to be glossed over through lack of information & in many instances mini bio's of people Arbus was associated with were used as filler. While Bosworth says at the start the family wouldn't talk to her for the book, there are a lot of quotes from various family members. I was stunned to r ...more
May 18, 2013 Adrienne rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library-loan, dnf
ok full of 'i knew diane qutoes from the nanny of her cousin who she hardly met, the obscure aunt who only saw her once, jerry her dads ex sales ladys (they were in the grament trade) ex husband who saw diane in the park once in her pram' ok i made those up but you get the picture. this book is padded out with quotes from 'hangers on' who, it would appear, the author couldn't possibly have spoken to because many where long gone when this was written and the back of the book is full to the brim o ...more
Aug 12, 2007 K rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: artists.
This book was filled with great ideas from a great artist about what photography is, was, can be, would be, to be. Although I find in many reviews people complain that it wasn't intamite enough, I find that a biography doesn't have to divulge every secret in order to be great. There was a secret behind each of her photos as there was behind her life and should the book as well. A great read with refrences to other artists, such as Mary and Robert Frank, that were worth checking out if you weren' ...more
Doug H
May 24, 2016 Doug H rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Full review to follow. (Which means I liked it enough to write a review, but I don't currently have enough energy to write a decent one and I will probably never actually get around to writing a review at all.)
Diane Arbus is so undeniably intriguing and difficult to pin down, that I was able to forgive this biography some of its issues. I liked the honesty of the biographer, Patricia Bosworth, in presenting most information about Arbus' life as sourced from various friends, family members and acquaintances. This allows you to read this narrative as a patchwork of stories from those close to the artist, rather than as god-given 'facts'.

The beginning is juicy with information on Arbus' early life, insi
Feb 04, 2016 Martha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In June, I visited the photography collection of the Museum of Modern Art where I saw several portraits by Diane Arbus, whose work has fascinated me since I first encountered it in a college photography class. Later that week, I learned that Nicole Kidman was set to star in “Fur,” an adaptation of Patricia Bosworth’s Arbus biography. Then the August issue of Vanity Fair included an article about the film’s production history. I finally took these cosmic hints and brought Bosworth’s book on vacat ...more
Lenore Riegel
Oct 09, 2013 Lenore Riegel rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Just finishing this and I am enthralled. Wonderfully researched, beautifully written - a picture of Diane Arbus as fascinating as any of her photographs. Looking forward to reading more Patricia Bosworth. By the way, I downloaded the eBook from Open Road Media.
Arthur Hoyle
Dec 04, 2013 Arthur Hoyle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting account of the life and career of a tortured photography artist whose photos document her descent into madness and suicide. Arbus was attracted to the margins of human experience, then fell off the edge.
Apr 10, 2015 Sacha rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Interesting for historical value. Sad as a human story. Just okay as a book: author was rather too enamored of her subject in my humble opinion.
Nov 27, 2015 Steve rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fascinating tale of a woman who saw things in people beyond the surface, who wanted experiences far outside those she was prepared for growing up, but who didn't know how to get through the experience of depression. I was reminded of my youthful dalliance with the art of photography - all the tales of her discovering her gift sounded so familiar and so exciting to me. Of course, she took it farther than I could ever do. It was also nice to get so much background on Howard Nemerov, the poet we ...more
Ms. Jared
I enjoyed it well enough and was happy for google images so I could look up people and photos mentioned. I didn't love it.
Jul 17, 2009 Cait rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Photographer- Biography.

interesting details from Arbus' life but the writing is not very engaging.
Lots of good info on whom her contemporaries were. I know a lot of criticisms of this book centred around the fact that the Estate would not grant her access, but that wasn't a real issue for me given how many interviews she sourced her material from, and the Arbus' estate's own reticence to let anyone publish research to the point of a lot of scholarly and institutional criticism. The writing in this book is pretty terrible and not nearly as sympathetic as the author claims Diane was to her sub ...more
Frank Leroux
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
marie monroe
Feb 07, 2008 marie monroe rated it it was amazing
Once you see her images and know her time you have to know who she is. She was a woman who said she didn't become a photographer until late in life (38!) because a woman spends the first half of her life getting married and having children.
She was right.

But,she changed art. Not an easy thing to do. Changing art means that whoever comes next to make art can start where that change-agent left off. Changing art rockets us to creative hyperspace and this woman is probably one of the most important p
Jul 15, 2012 Richard rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Her first encounter with the camera that became her signature motif began when she met Allan Arbus, a young photographer several years older than her who did photo shoots for her parents store, with whom she fell in love, later married, divorced but clung to for the rest of her life nonetheless. It was Allan who learned the technical aspect of photography in the military that in turn taught Diane how to process film but it was she who had the eye for photo composition. Her contemporaries includi ...more
I enjoyed reading this biography of Diane Arbus and discovering some very interesting anecdotes about her life. This bio isn't a critical biography, rather a presentation of opinions of people who knew her well written by someone who knew her in real life. I would have been interested to have more of the biographer present in the narrative. There seems to be too much of a New York clique in the story - Diane met this person, then this person who you should know but don't. Sometimes it was diffic ...more
Timothy Finnegan
Had Diane Arbus lived until today she would be a year older than my father. Very strange thought because my father is the very antithesis of cool. She joined the ranks of many cool pop/rock artists who killed themselves consciously and otherwise during the early 70's; Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Duane Allman. Diane Arbus broadened the subject matter of still photography; taking sensitive pictures of freaks, nudists, the plain ugly in their natural habitat without apology or shame. ...more
Jesse Cohen
Arbus was a great subject to have, and this was the first biography of the iconoclastic photographer to arrive. Great expectations. Bosworth is diligent, but also stalwart and a bit dull. Her writing is flat at times, and I never felt she understood anything Arbus--and her contemporaries--were doing. Bosworth was a fly on the wall, but she never took flight, and she seems always to land on dung.
Apr 24, 2014 Clelia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very moving, mostly just because it's Diane Arbus. I took this with a grain of salt because I had heard that it was a bit sensationalistic, not strictly factual in all places, maybe even written for money. Patricia Bosworth sometimes draws conclusions about Diane's character from inconclusive evidence or untrustworthy accounts, and seems over-eager to make her into a tragic figure. Certainly her suicide was tragic and a horrific loss for the artistic world (and the world in general), but the who ...more
Nov 22, 2009 William rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bosworth's biography gets five stars for keeping me occupied during eleven or so hours on a bus chaperoning a school field trip to Washington D.C. The author does a good job of tracing the influence Arbus' early life had on her later career and illuminating some of the likely sources of her fixation on the morbid, the bizarre, the twisted and the forbidden.

I have a vague memory of reading somewhere that Bosworth had relied too much on rumor and distorted some aspects of Arbus' life (possibly I
Apr 07, 2010 Marcia rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am not sure that the writing in the book was terrific, but the subject was certainly fascinating. I have tried twice to watch "Fur", the fictional story of Diane Arbus' life, apparently insoired by this book, but I get so creeped out by the Robert Downey, Jr. charcater that I have to quit. Diane's life was like that...filled with creepy people who fascinated her. The biggest disappointment about this book was the fact that the author had no access to Diane's photos, which are closely guarded b ...more
Jun 22, 2015 Kay rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biographies, 2015
This is the epitome of boring biography in places, just a slew of names and dates. But then there are really interesting snapshots (forgive the pun) of Arbus' life. It sometimes drags: twenty solid minutes of reading might only cover an afternoon. Sometimes there are particular moments that are obsessed over for page after page and other times while chunks of time are missing. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to what gets omitted.

Notable that Bosworth appears to misgender one of the people
Jun 28, 2008 Carol rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I reluctantly picked up this book because I have heard such mixed reviews of it in inner fine art photographic circles. Curiously, i chose to finally reading it after seeing the movie "Fur", the imaginary biography of Diane Arbus. The movie is a whole other story and review ( I actually like the movie as soon as i stopped thinking of it as true in any sense of the word).
The book, is readable enough and offers an interesting look at the world of photography in the the 40's through the early 70's,
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Patricia Bosworth is an American journalist and biographer. A former faculty member of the Graduate School of Journalism at Columbia University, she has also been an editor, actress, and model.
More about Patricia Bosworth...

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