Article by Dhaval Shah
A ruggedly handsome man, powerfully imposing personality, yet a childlike vulnerability to be open to the unknown. This is how I can best describe the Mastercraftsman Richard Avedon. He was a very well established fashion photographer, having worked for fashion magazines such as Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue and other accomplished designers.
Though he started out working for the merchant marine’s taking identification portraits of the sailors, he had a sense of fashion
embedded in his psyche as his father ran a fashion boutique in New York City. His initial fashion assignments consisted of covering the
models donning the fashion fall collections in Paris in the real environment, more like documentary fashion. Avedon, not only brought out the style, clothing and attitude, he sold a story through the pictures. One could relate to the characters the models portrayed, the frown , the thoughtful look, the appreciative smile, the pensiveness were all emoted by the models on Avedon’s direction. He was like a narrator, using his images as anecdotes.
Unlike them, his models were not statues. There was movement, there was emotion and expression, they together brought the fashion alive.
Instead of selling a product, Avedon sold the idea, the lifestyle, the feeling through his photographs!
He would ask the models to move, jump, laugh, express. Not knowing how the fabric would flow, or where the hair would fly or how the arms
would flex, and in the process he would achieve photographs that would make the world gasp!
His rare and unusual style of photography made him cross new boundaries, for instance when he conducted a fashion shoot in a circus! The memorable picture of the model in a Dior gown, gracefully posing with the elephants behind her, self-obsessively unaware of the mammoths behind her.
Avedon loved to study people, Understand them, analyse their faces for he believed that, ‘in the end everything is in the face, for that is how we know people’, and try to look for contradictions in them. He had the power to direct a photography seating with his clients no matter how powerful they were. He would invoke emotions out of them that he wanted to and capture them permanently on his film. To one client he remarked, “If you were to die tomorrow, would there be anything you would like to change about this picture?!”. The image of Marilyn Monroe shows very contrary emotions of vulnerability, sadness, a sense of longing etc; than her commonly known public persona of the outspoken diva!
Dick, as he was lovingly known as, documented his terminally ill father in his final years. The images were also put up at exhibitions and museums. The images invoke the feelings of helplessness of the dying father, they portray the presence of mortality, the illusuion of life. However, for Avedon, it was a way of facing eventuality of his father’s death in the face. It was his way of interacting with his father and letting him know who he was and what he did, and to let him know that he was there for him. (10, 10a, 10b)
In 1995, The New Yorker published a fashion story by Avedon ‘In memory of Mr. & Mrs Comfort’ a very visual depiction of Avedon’s ideas of death, fashion and human eccentricies of humanity. (11, 12, 13)