Monday, April 20, 2009

One/One-Thousand: Richard Avedon

Bernard Buffet, painter, and wife Anabel Buffet, writer, Paris, January 27 1959

The late Richard Avedon was/is a photographic legend. His portraits of the famous (and not so famous) rendered in a restricted palette of black and white against a stark, plain background were more than just evidence of his distinctive style, they were his timeless contribution to the annals of photography. While color photos gained popularity and presence in his time, Avedon stuck with his two-tone portrait style and created some of the most concise and moving photographic studies of interesting people that have ever seen the light after a dark room. His fashion shots were exceedingly eloquent and glamorous, while his studies of famous actors, artists, and musicians were quirky, active, and maybe even a little unflattering. His reverence in portraiture was not for the perfected face of his known subjects, but for the truth of their essence. A strange expression, an obvious squint, a wrinkle, a lip purse, or head tilt were his desired treasures. There was no hiding in his simple shots, only magnification of what was so. You can almost see his subjects thinking in their portraits, their minds twirling with whatever talent made them of interest and garnered them a place before his lens. Actually, the unknown sitters are even more dynamic than those who are recognizable. The miners, farmers, snake handlers, and bee keepers he shot give their life stories in one glance, in the weight of their stance, their clothes, and the dirt on their skin. His work speaks so many volumes in so few, two-dimensional square inches that it's almost as if photography and its "one shot yields one thousand words" maxim was invented for Avedon and his lens. He worked extensively in the fashion industry, producing iconic images for Versace campaigns and all of the major publications of note, but in my humble opinion, his non-fashion portraiture speaks even more clearly of fashion. It's the clothing of everyday folks, of creative minds and real people and function, it is fashion in it's less glamorous habitat. It is fashion at home on real bodies. Look and see:

Singer Marian Anderson, singer, New York, June 30 1955

Sandra Bennett, Twelve Year Old, Rocky Ford, Colorado, August 23, 1980

Ezra Pound, poet, Rutherford, New Jersey, June 30, 1958

Debbie McClendon, carney, Thermopolis, Wyoming, July 29, 1981

Mary Watts, factory worker, and her niece, Tricia Steward, Sweetwater, Texas, March 10, 1979

Richard Wheatcroft, rancher, Jordan, Montana, June 19, 1981

John Martin, dancer, Les Ballet Trockadero de Monte Carlo, New York, March 15, 1975

Joe Butler, coal miner, Reliance, Wyoming, August 28, 1979

All of the images above, as well as more selections from Avedon's archive can be viewed at Or on my wall if you'd like to come over...

1 comment:

Maize said...

Hey, I've been devouring your blog for months now and figured it was time to stop the stalker-ish behavior and say a proper hello.

I was passing by the International Center of Photography and saw that they have an Avedon fashion photo exhibit going on there now. (

Just thought it was something you might like! There's also a David Seidner fashion photo exhibit going on, which actually looks pretty interesting too: