The Man of His Time

© Richard Avedon

I never realized how much I enjoy Richard Avedon’s work after I revisit my old DVD, Richard Avedon: Darkness and Light. Further reading leads me to this exquisite feature & commentary by curators Carol Squiers and Vince Aletti for the New York Times.

The entire cut is about 6:00 min long, if you’re in a hurry, here are some bits that I found to be awakening.

On feelings:

Avedon was always looking for another way to show how women thought and how women felt, and that meant it they aren’t necessarily always just feeling beautiful, they might be insecure, but they might be also very very happy. Avedon really made the laughing woman a real subject in fashion.

On ‘color’:

There were not supposed to be any people of color in Harper’s Bazaar magazine, for Avedon, people of color were part of the spectrum that were normal natural to him, In his quest for beauties — that were not just your average American beauty — he looked at women who were of different ethnic background, one of the first ones he came up with was China Machado a woman of Portuguese and Chinese ancestry. He actually had to threaten to quit Harper’s Bazaar in order to get them to use China Machado in the pages of the magazine. This particular fight only escalated when he decided he wanted to use a black model whose name is Donyale Luna.

On being true to his vision:

Avedon always seem to be slightly ahead of his time in terms of whatever the social and cultural thinking was of the time. He always seemed to be pushing pushing the envelope and getting himself into trouble but because he was who he was, he could threaten and they would bend to his will.

More about his vision, Vince Aletti added:

I think what he did best was compress the movement that he had on the street, the kind of attitude of excitement and exuberance that he captured with models out in the world was able to put that into the studio and capture that for the page. […] Avedon was always very much a person of his time, so he was really attuned to the energy and exuberance of the 60s, and the radicalism that was there as well and wanted to kind of translate that into the work as well, if only by encouraging his models to let go, to really spread across the page, or to really be excited and convey that sense of excitement out to the world.

What I noticed in the last couple of years is that fashion pages on the magazines today no longer has so much weight in its content — weak concepts, repetitive looks and most destructive — albeit the most unapparent — is the personification of the fashion, and the objectification of the person behind it. Feelings & expressions are kept at the bare minimum — making them almost irrelevant at times, and at the same time turning the fashion products into biblical objects.

Perhaps this is one of those period in history books where we are at the turning point where consumerism is the new world order (or religion, on this matter). One can only hope that this is just — well — fashion at its best.