The Vertical Journey by Diane Arbus, 1960

Diane Arbus started working for the press when assisting her husband Allan, in the 1950s. Together,
they did fashion advertising shoots in their studio in New York. But soon she would pursue her own independent career in photography, turning her lens onto subjects on the fringes of society, such as circus performers, transgender people, and individuals with physical abnormalities.

In late summer of 1959, Arbus took her portfolio to Esquire magazine and showed it to its editor Harold Hayes. Hayes was impressed by her “apocalyptic” shots and asked her to do a photo essay on the nightlife of New York for a special Esquire issue on the city. Arbus’s contribution to that July 1960 issue was the portraits of six “typical” New Yorkers, titled “The Vertical Journey: Six Movements of a Moment Within the Heart of the City.”

Arbus contrasted faces of the city:

  • Hezekiah Trambles, “The Jungle Creep” performs five times a day at Hubert’s Museum, 42nd and Broadway, Times Square.
  • Mrs. Dagmar Patino, Photographed at the Grand Opera Ball benefiting Boystown of Italy, Sheraton East Hotel.
  • Flora Knapp Dickinson, Honorary Regent of the Washington Heights Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
  • Andrew Ratoucheff, Actor, 56, in his Manhattan rooming house following a late show performance of his specialty imitations of Marilyn Monroe and Maurice Chevalier singing “Valentina.”
  • Walter L. Gregory, Also known as The Mad Man from Massachusetts, photographed in the city room of “The Bowery News.”
  • Person Unknown, Morgue, Bellevue Hospital

This photoessay was part of a larger project for Esquire, which included exploring various elements of the city, ranging from the elegant to the sordid. In “Fifth Avenue, Uptown,” James Baldwin provided a gripping portrayal of a neighborhood in Harlem. Salvador Dali contributed “The Contraction of New York Museums,” his take on the city’s cultural institutions. Industrial designer Raymond Loewy thundered, “How I Would Rebuild New York City.” In Truman Capote’s “Among the Paths to Eden,” widows and widowers share intimate moments at their decreased spouses’ graves at Calvary Cemetery in Woodside, NY.

For Arbus, “The Vertical Journey” marked the beginning of her career as a solo commercial photographer. Over the next eleven years before her suicide in 1971 at age 48, Diane Arbus would publish over 250 pictures in more than seventy magazine articles in Esquire, Harper’s Bazaar, the Sunday Times Magazine and Nova. 

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