Diane Arbus Gets NY Times Obituary 46 Years After Her Death

Diane Arbus was honored with an obituary by the New York Times today, 46 years after the renowned American portrait photographer died. It was one of 15 obituaries published today as part of a project titled Overlooked.

Overlooked will regularly feature new obituaries of people in the past that never received them for one reason or another. Today, on International Women’s Day, the project features the lives of accomplished women.

“Looking back at the obituary archives can provide a stark lesson in how society valued various achievements and achievers,” write Times editors Jessica Bennett and Amisha Padnani. “Since 1851, The New York Times has published thousands of obituaries. The vast majority chronicled the lives of men, mostly white ones; even in the last two years, about 20% of our subjects were female.

“This series recalls the stories of those who left indelible marks but were nonetheless overlooked.”

The Times describes Arbus as “a photographer whose portraits have compelled or repelled generations of viewers.” Here’s an excerpt of the new obituary:

Diane Arbus was a daughter of privilege who spent much of her adult life documenting those on the periphery of society. Since she killed herself in 1971, her unblinking portraits have made her a seminal figure in modern-day photography and an influence on three generations of photographers, though she is perhaps just as famous for her unconventional lifestyle and her suicide […]

After decades of intense examination of her work and life, perhaps there is room to understand Arbus as a woman driven by artistic vision as well as personal compulsion, and her photographs as documents of empathy as well as exploitation. Arbus herself hinted at the difficulty of understanding and interpreting images.

“A photograph is a secret about a secret,” she said. “The more it tells you the less you know.”

If you’re interested in learning more about Arbus and her work, here’s a 30-minute documentary about her that was part of the Masters of Photography series from the 1970s:

The Times will continue to publish new obituaries in Overlooked every week in 2018.

Image credits: Header photograph by Stephen A. Frank and courtesy The New York Times.