Richard Avedon: Ruminations on American Photography

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The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SF MoMA) is currently exhibiting the enrapturing work of American fashion photographer Richard Avedon. Admittedly, I tend to be skeptical of photography as a medium out of being subjected to the mediocre portfolios of boring self-proclaimed “photographers” who applaud recycled and uninspired angles and lighting. I found the accompanying Robert Frank exhibit rather predictable in its cliche depiction of subjects of color. The select few photographs featuring people of color capture a victimizing despair that is often mistaken for “the entire story” or rather “the story worth telling” in American photography. There’s only so many shots of American flags juxtaposed against backdrops of working class women with vacant and hungry eyes I can digest before regurgitating. While I understand Frank’s work to be “revolutionary” within the context of his time, I question whether historical controversy alone warrants the present day praise he receives. As is true today, photographer’s with less provocative appeal and social capital (who innovate the medium well beyond Frank’s capacity) go unrecognized due to limited exposure. I digress! In stark contrast, Richard Avedon is refreshingly straight forward. Rather than pretend to archive the nuances of American life (read: the oppressed), he unabashedly photographs the American elite. Although his subjects remain obvious (read: the establishment), the photography itself creates layers of complexity and meaning. This says it best: “Whether photographing politicians, artists, writers, fashion models, or movie stars, Richard Avedon revolutionized the genre of portraiture. He rejected conventional stiff-and-staid poses and instead captured both motion and emotion in the faces of his subjects, often encapsulating their intrigue in a single charged moment.” (SFMOMA website). Avedon embodies “complex simplicity” in his ability to expose subtlety in seemingly mundane black and white portraits. It is for these reasons that Avedon’s work has restored my faith in the medium of photography. For those of you who live in the Bay Area, go check out the only U.S. venue for this in-depth retrospective exhibit spanning “his earliest street scenes to his breakthrough 1950s Paris fashion pictures and the iconic celebrity portraits that brought him world renown”. Check out the SF MOMA website for pricing and hours. Let’s enjoy these shots:

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Marilyn Monroe, actor, New York, May 6, 1957

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Self-portrait, photographer, Provo, Utah, August 20, 1980

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Björk, musician, New York, June 2, 2004

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Dovima with Elephants, Evening Dress by Dior, Cirque d’Hiver, Paris, 1955

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Malcolm-X, black nationalist leader, New York, 1963

Support SF MoMA. Visit Richard Avedon’s Website. Research Robert Frank. Leave a comment!

Comments
2 Responses to “Richard Avedon: Ruminations on American Photography”
  1. actually it’s one of my favorite photograph..great concept in every captured photograph

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  1. […] https://bugginout.wordpress.com/2009/08/18/richard-avedon-ruminations-on-american-photography/For those of you who live in the Bay Area, go check out the only U.S. venue for this in-depth retrospective exhibit spanning “his earliest street scenes to his breakthrough 1950s Paris fashion pictures and the iconic celebrity portraits … […]



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