Diane Arbus: Constellation

Celebrating the centenary of the birth of Diane Arbus, LUMA Arles presents Constellation, an exhibition constituting the most comprehensive presentation to date of the work of this unparalleled photographer. Taking the form of an immersive installation, the exhibition will consist of the complete set of printer’s proofs of more than 450 images (some of them still unpublished) made by Neil Selkirk, a student of hers and the only person since the photographer’s death permitted to print from her negatives. This unique display, part of the LUMA Foundation / Maja Hoffmann Collection, will offer visitors a labyrinthine journey through the heart of Diane Arbus’s work, allowing them freely to discover or rediscover her images through new perspectives.

Until the era of the Impressionists, painting involved capturing and conveying the world and one’s imagination within the confines of a static canvas.
Only the artist’s hand moved across the surface, while the Impressionists, venturing beyond their studios to explore cities and countryside, unintentionally laid the groundwork for what would later become cinema and photography. As cameras became smaller in the 1920s, photography adopted the Impressionists’ inclination towards capturing the essence of distant and external places.

Diane Arbus’ photography emerged from this tireless exploration, the culmination of countless hours spent walking, driven by chance encounters and the unspoken intuition of instinct. While the results of her work may appear precise, composed, and coherent, her off-screen existence was tumultuous, organic, and scattered throughout the city. It comprised a network of intersecting paths, resembling a spider’s web, with numerous points on the map connected by a shared yearning for poetic revelation. It is precisely this cartography of time and space that captivates us.
How can we simultaneously present both the images themselves and the hidden aspects intrinsic to each of them? It’s not just the physical movements of the artist that matter, but also the movements of her gaze, sliding across reality and pausing at faces, details, attitudes, and peculiarities. Diane Arbus had the ability to recognize the photographic potential in her subjects.
Following Diane Arbus’ passing in 1971, Neil Selkirk, one of her students and a technical advisor, took on the responsibility of printing her negatives for the Arbus Estate, the entity overseeing the artist’s legacy. Since her death, Selkirk has been the sole authorized printer of her negatives. Over the course of thirty years, he has compiled a unique collection of prints of Arbus’ photographs, which was acquired by the LUMA Foundation in 2011. This collection itself stands as a monument to the history of photography.

The Constellation exhibition brings together all 454 printing proofs (some of which are yet to be published) from the “Selkirk Prints set” in an immersive installation. The intention is to reveal the extra-photographic dimension of these images, exposing what lies between the shots, what binds these photographs together like dark matter: the intricate web. The concept of a constellation emerged as a structure capable of unveiling both the images themselves and the imperceptible architecture that underlies all creative endeavors—randomness, chaos, and the search for meaning. Therefore, there is no prescribed path or set of instructions within Constellation. Similar to Diane Arbus’ experience in New York, visitors are invited to wander, pass by, circle around, and explore. There is no predetermined route, but an infinite number of possibilities. Each individual will be able to craft their own unique experience within this serendipitous and transformative display.
The Curator is Matthieu Humery. This exhibition is presented in partnership with Les Rencontres d’Arles.

About the Author

Diane Arbus stands as one of the most extraordinary and influential photographers of the 20th century. She honed her craft under the tutelage of renowned figures such as Berenice Abbott, Alexey Brodovitch, and Lisette Model, and her debut photographs were published in Esquire magazine in 1960. Arbus’s artistic prowess earned her the prestigious John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship in both 1963 and 1966. She was among the three photographers whose groundbreaking work formed the core of “New Documents,” a seminal exhibition curated by John Szarkowski at the Museum of Modern Art in 1967. Arbus’s subjects encompassed a diverse range, including couples, children, transvestites, nudists, pedestrians in New York, suburban families, circus performers, and celebrities. Through her lens, she skillfully captured the multifaceted tapestry of American society in the post-war era, offering a pluralistic and uniquely captivating portrait of humanity. Following her untimely demise, her work was showcased at the Venice Biennale, marking a historic moment as the first exhibition dedicated to a photographer.
Over the subsequent fifty years, major retrospective exhibitions celebrating her artistry were organized by esteemed institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1972), the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco (2003), the Jeu de Paume in Paris (2011), the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (2016), and the Art Gallery of Ontario (2020).
Numerous books have been devoted to showcasing her body of work, including notable titles such as “Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph” (1972), “Magazine Work” (1984), “Untitled” (1995), “Revelations” (2003), “The Libraries” (2004), “A Chronology” (2011), “Silent Dialogues” (2015), “In the Beginning” (2016), “A Box of Ten Photographs” (2018), and “Documents” (2022).
In addition to the aforementioned museums, significant collections of her artwork can be found in prestigious institutions worldwide. The National Library of France was among the earliest to acquire her works, followed by the esteemed Center Pompidou.


Diane Arbus: Constellation
3 JULY – 30 APRIL 2024
LUMA – La Tour, Parc des Ateliers
Les Rencontres de la Photographie 2023 – Arles – France


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