The first day of October 2004, one of the contemporary legends of photography, Richard Avedon, died in San Antonio, Texas. He would no longer be behind the lens that created the most fantastic editorials for haute couture houses and fashion publications. But he left behind the legacy of an iconic artist who conferred a unique sense of sophistication to his works.
As a tribute to the photographer, Gagosian Gallery London in collaboration with the Richard Avedon Foundation, premiered the exhibition Avedon: Women, a selection of photographs from the 1960s and 70s, focusing, specifically, on images of women in motion, a trademark of Avedon´s fashion photography. The show will culminate in November at Gagosian Beverly Hills, in Los Angeles.
Avedon was born in New York in 1923, and by the 1950’s he had imprinted his aesthetic on the magazine Harper’s Bazaar. For the next twenty years, other publications including Look, Vogue and Life fought, amongst themselves, to publish his work.
Avedon put an end to the myth of the mannequin, the cold, indifferent and impersonal model that was supposed to give up her own personality to showcase the clothes she was wearing. His models, on the other hand, were free and creative women who told a story through movement. Unintentionally, the photographer was heralding the birth of the powerful and far-reaching “supermodel”.
He also paid close attention to the social environment. From the Civil Rights Movement in the United States until the moment when the Berlin Wall was torn down, each defining event of the second half of the 20th century was documented in his catalog.
Commissioned by the Amon Carter Museum, Avedon carried out one of his most significant projects, In the American West, in which he created large format photographs captured in daylight, outdoors and with a white background. Everyday faces became art thanks to the sharpness of his lens, which revealed an unusual expressive force.
Another masterpiece, Portraits (1976), delves into the passage of time and its effects on human beings. Avedon ends this special project with a powerful series of seven photographs of his father, whom gradually ages until he seems to have been integrated into the light itself. The act of living, with its joys and stresses, is revealed in this book as another fundamental motif in the photographer’s oeuvre.
And in the middle of it all, the artist looks at the world of celebrities, transcending the myths and searching for the human being behind the image. His portrait of Barbra Streisand is not just the profile of a star, but a person who mocks the cult she inspires. Elizabeth Taylor casts a deeply intelligent and challenging gaze at those who believe she only represents only the jewelry she wears or her deep violet eyes. Mikhail Barishnikov shows the pain and stress of every muscle as he jumps; his soul is not in the curtain calls.
This genius of the image understood that although the luxury of the applause is valid, perhaps even necessary, “what is essential is invisible to the eyes”. He decided then to bring the essence of life to light, and, in doing so, he emulates Saint Exupéry. In the fall of 2004, Richard Avedon, with his camera in hand was in full creative capacity. He didn’t even have time to think about what would be written in his epitaph. It doesn’t matter. With such a rich legacy and the evident genius in each of his portraits, he did not need it. ■