Regarded by many as the most influential portraitist of the 20th century Richard Avedon is most well known for his photographs of celebrities. However, some of his most intriguing work was his series of portraits of people of the American West and his shots of ordinary New Yorkers going about their daily lives.
Richard Avedon People is an overview of his most personal portraits of both the famous and not so famous. The exhibition is on display at the Art Gallery of WA from August 2.
In co-operation with the Richard Avedon Foundation the National Portrait Gallery’s Senior Curator, Dr Christopher Chapman, curated the exhibition.
Like another celebrated American photographer Garry Winogrand much of his vast archive wasn’t printed at the time of his death. Unlike Winogrand, Avedon strictly stipulated that he wanted none of his unprinted work to see the light of day. He may have left behind more than 200,000 negatives, but contended if someone else printed them they would no longer be Avedon photos.
Born in New York in 1923, Avedon attended Dewitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, where he worked on the school paper, The Magpie, with James Baldwin from 1937 until 1940. He started as a fashion photographer at Harpers Bazaar and quickly drew attention for his unusual fashion images. He took models out of the studio and onto the streets and got them to smile, jump or dance.
He followed Diana Vreeland to Vogue and photographed most of the covers from 1973 until Anna Wintour became editor in chief in 1988. During this time he also shot the now infamous Calvin Klein Jeans campaign with a 15-year old Brooke Shields.
He brought many celebrities to his studio and photographed them with a large-format 8 x 10 view camera. He endowed humanity to his high-profile subjects – catching them off-guard or highlighting their idiosyncrasies. He combined an inherent minimalism and a search for the intrinsic authenticity in his subjects. From Truman Capote to Ezra Pound, Bob Dylan to Andy Warhol and Dwight D. Eisenhower to Marilyn Monroe, his subjects all gave up a little something not seen before.
From counter culture to the civil rights movement to people on the street he documented a time of incredible political, social and moral upheaval.
In the American West, Avedon’s portraiture of ‘ordinary’ Americans was much darker than most of his previous work. He was commissioned by the Director of the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth and was given complete creative license, travelling throughout the West over 5 years. The resulting images caused a furore. He concentrated on drifters, prisoners, slaughterhouse workers and carnival folk. Avedon’s gaze through the camera is relentless. The images are bleak but he defended his depiction, saying, “All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth”.
Richard Avedon People is on display at the Art Gallery of WA from August 2 until November 17 2014. http://www.artgallery.wa.gov.au