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Published on Jan 13, 2009
In 1967, when the Museum of Modern Art in New York City presented New Documents -- a major exhibition of the personal visions of several photographers -- the surprise of the show was the work of Diane Arbus. On her own, against the advice of many friends, she had pursued her documentation of people on the fringes of society, and the astonishing in the commonplace. Suddenly she was famous, with students and imitators. By 1972 her work was everywhere, and was featured at the Venice Biennale, where it became, as New York Times critic Hilton Kramer said, the overwhelming sensation of the American Pavilion. But by then Diane Arbus was dead, by her own hand. "Nothing about her life, her photographs or her death was accidental or ordinary," wrote Richard Avedon. "They were mysterious and decisive and unimaginable except to her. Which is the way it is with genius."
This half-hour documentary was made that same year. It explores her work and ideas, often in her own words as spoken by a close friend. It includes reflections by some of the people who knew her best; daughter Doon, teacher Lisette Model, colleague Marvin Israel, and John Szarkowski, at that time the director of the photography department at the Museum of Modern Art.