SF will soon be the second American city to house the “diane arbus: in the beginning” collection. The exhibit largely consists of photographs from The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s vast Diane Arbus Archive in New York. Plus many lesser-known published works will also be on display for the first time, offering fresh insights into Arbus’ distinctive vision. The upcoming exhibit will be on view for four months beginning January 21 and running through April 30, 2017. The exhibit opens later this month at the SFMOMA‘s new Pritzker Center for Photography.

“diane arbus: in the beginning” considers the first seven years of the iconic American photographer Diane Arbus’ career. It brings together more than 100 photographs taken between 1956 to 1962, a period during which nearly half of all the photographs Arbus printed during her lifetime were produced. The collection also includes photographs that had only come to light after her suicidal death in 1971. A second complementary gallery on display will feature works by artists admired by Arbus and some of her New York contemporaries, such as Walker Evans, Louis Faurer, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, William Klein, Helen Levitt, Lisette Model, August Sander, Weegee and Garry Winogrand.


Diane Arbus was noted for photographs of marginalized people perceived by the general populace as ugly or surreal such as dwarfs, giants, transgender people, nudists, and circus performers. Some notable quotes by the distinguished photographer and writer include:
– “A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know.”
– “I really believe there are things nobody would see if I didn’t photograph them.”
– “My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been.”

A 2006 film, Fur, presented a fictional version of Diane Arbus’ life story starring Nicole Kidman.

SFMOMA (at 151 Third Street) opened the new Pritzker Center for Photography back in May 2016, creating the largest museum exhibition space, interpretation space, and resource study center dedicated to photography in the United States. Corey Keller, curator of photography at SFMOMA, shared, “We’re so pleased to bring Arbus’s work back to the Bay Area. Arbus made some of the most potent photographs of the 20th century, and this exhibition provides a unique opportunity to consider the origins of her vision and to explore a tremendously rich but largely unfamiliar body of early work.”

Furthermore, a hardcover, fully-illustrated catalog of more than 100 photographs can be purchased through the museum Store for $50. It includes two essays: “In the Beginning” by Jeff L. Rosenheim, curator in charge of the department of photographs at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and “Notes from the Archive” by Karan Rinaldo, senior research assistant at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

SFMOMA is open Friday–Tuesday from 10am–5pm (with public spaces opening at 9:30am) and until 9pm on Thursday (closed Wednesdays).


Photographs by Diane Arbus, Courtesy of SFMOMA