Richard Avedon’s visions

Avedon behind the camera

I used to have an attitude toward fashion-related photograph that it was not photojournalism and so it was a technically adept but soulless practice: pretty pictures of beautiful women but fundamentally empty.

Then I saw Richard Avedon’s work and I was flipped around. Entirely.

Avedon was the premiere fashion photographer of his generation. But he was also more. He was an incomparable portraitist who was willing to take risks that included offering blunt and seemingly merciless images of his subjects, starting with his father Jacob Avedon. His essay “Borrowed Dogs” (search it online) sums up how he formed his history of seeing beyond the snapshot image that didn’t go beyond the surface, but found the depths in family and commercial pictures that cut past the layers of decoration and entered a probing, analytic, yet compassionate oeuvre in which photographs represented the greater life of the subject and, riskily, the photographer himself. You could not mistake an Avedon image for one by, say, Penn or Newman. Often his work came closer to W. Eugene Smith’s photographs of street scenes and personalities.

Look at Portraits to see the impact on yourself of Avedon’s photographic work.


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