Richard Avedon at Le Jeu de Paume

Richard Avedon talking with a model of his In the American West series
Richard Avedon talking with a model of his In the American West series

A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion.
There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.
(Richard Avedon)

Take a large sheet of white paper, approximately 2 meters high and 2.5 meters wide. Fix it on a wall, somewhere in the shade. Put your photographic chamber on its tripod in front of this screen, at about 2 meters.

When your settings are finished, don’t look in the viewfinder any more. Stand beside the camera and have a relaxed face to face chat with the model you’re going to take the picture, without any equipment getting in your way. If you’re talented, your name is .

Charles Chaplin — His last day in America, 1957
Charles Chaplin
His last day in America, 1957
I must acknowledge I was somewhat prejudiced against the work of Richard Avedon: I knew him as a fashion photographer only… and fashion is not my cup of tea. I did not know the other sides of his work until recently, when I read articles about the exhibit now held in Le Musée du Jeu de Paume in Paris, where they said he didn’t take fashion photos only, but also portraits.

Clarence Lippard, drifter - Interstate 80, Sparks, Nevada - August 29, 1983
Clarence Lippard, drifter.
Interstate 80, Sparks, Nevada
August 29, 1983

I went to the exhibition earlier this week, and discovered how huge a photographer I had missed for many years. Besides the fashion pictures, I saw awesome portraits of celebrities: Anna Magnani just out of bed, Henry Kissinger scared by the camera, Karen Blixen sparkling with mischievousness, Charles Chaplin making fun of McCarthyism, Marylin Monroe touching and fragile…

Sandra Bennett, twelve years old — Rocky Ford, Colorado, 1980
Sandra Bennett, 12 year old
Rocky Ford, Colorado, 1980
Essentially, in two dedicated rooms, were exhibited about 30 portraits of middle class and poor Americans from the 17 western states, taken at the beginning of the 1980s, part of his In the American West series.

These are large portraits in black and white, about 1.50 meter high and 1.20 meter wide, that hang side by side on black walls, in shadowy light. Bare introverted faces of workers, children, women, old people, looking you straight in the eye, that bear an intense but subjacent emotional power.

Red Owens, oil field worker — Velma, Oklahoma - December 6, 1980
Red Owens, oil field worker.
Velma, Oklahoma
December 6, 1980
Faces, good looking or not, and so many marks on them… scars, freckles, oil marks, coal marks.

Roberto Lopez, oil field worker - Lyons, Texas - September 28, 1980
Roberto Lopez, oil field worker.
Lyons, Texas
September 28, 1980

Such photos immortalize their models. Many people will never forget these faces, that were anonymous once, in the same way they will not forget the untameable will shown in the piercing look of the by Stephen McCurry.

Even though a photo cannot show but the surface of a body or face, pictures by Richard Avedon and other great portraitists reveal the deepest part of the soul of their models, their character, sadness, strength, despair, fear, loneliness. A great exhibition, about a great photographer.

1 comment(s):

    Very nice I am photographer and I like to read about various technique of photography so keep posting such a nice post. I would like to try it as a experiment.

    Smith ALan


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