Unstoppably curious and transfixed on the fringes of American post-war society, Diane Arbus’ American Portraits is an unsettling and captivating portrayal of those considered to be ‘outsiders’ in the land of the free.

The photographs of Diane Arbus (1923–71) are among the most widely recognised in the history of photography. Her images stand as powerful symbols of post-war America and once seen, are rarely forgotten. Arbus had a huge curiosity about the society around her; her favourite thing was 'to go where I've never been'. Her subjects, often those living on the fringes of society, were always photographed in a candid, matter-of-fact way that seems for many viewers empowering and affirming, and for others exploitative and voyeuristic. Whatever the case, Arbus’ photographs make us see the world differently.

The exhibition shows Arbus’ work alongside photographs by her artistic predecessors, contemporaries, and those who are heirs to aspects of her world view – including Walker Evans, Lisette Model, Weegee, Garry Winogrand, Lee Friedlander, Mary Ellen Mark and Katy Grannan. Like Arbus, these American photographers sought to redefine the tradition of portraiture and have created memorable images that are both challenging and moving.

Diane Arbus: American portraits is a National Gallery of Australia Exhibition. This project has been assisted by the Australian Government's Visions of Australia program.