Richard Avedon

Photograph of Buster Keaton by Richard Avedon, 1952

As I perused images under consideration for today’s post, this unattributed picture caught my eye. When I searched for its creator, I discovered, to my complete non-surprise, Richard Avedon took the photograph. I should have known. It has all the familiar elements of his style.

In the 1970s, I wanted to be a photographer like Annie Leibowitz. If I had been born twenty years earlier, I would have wanted to be Dick Avedon. Once I realized it was one of his images, I had to put it up. It’s not one of my favorites. It may not even be among his best. However, I do it as a symbol of and tribute to the hundreds of images I’ve contemplated by him, each one striking in its simplicity and layered with complexity.

Let’s consider this photograph of Buster Keaton from 1952. Here is a man, famous for making people laugh during the silent film era, twenty years after he peaked. He poses with his character’s familiar porkpie hat, and underneath we see the sad sack persona which typified his movies. Look again. It’s more than that. Avedon has caught the sadness and loneliness, the bleak stare, the dark ennui. Has the character become the man? Or has the man become the character?

I’ve copied and doctored the following paragraphs from Wiki which has a sound explanation of his style:

“Avedon was interested in how portraiture captures the personality and soul of its subject. As his reputation as a photographer grew, he photographed many noted people in his studio with a large-format 8×10 view camera. [This means the negative was 8″ by 10”. This size is huge in comparison to 35mm (the most common film size) or even the less frequently used 2″x2″ box camera. Having negatives this large, enhanced the details and made enlarging the image to lifesize and beyond easy.]

His portraits have a minimalist style, where the person is looking squarely at the camera, posed in front of a sheer white background. By eliminating the use of soft lights and props, Avedon was able to focus on the inner world of his subjects evoking emotions and reactions. He would at times provoke responses from his portrait subjects by guiding them into uncomfortable areas of discussion or asking them psychologically probing questions. Through these means, his images revealed hidden aspects of his subject’s character and personality.”

Wiki has a biography, which I suggest you read if you are interested in straight-forward information on his life and works. Click here.

However, if you go to the Avedon Foundation website, the home page opens on a clickable (arrows to the right and left) slideshow of astonishing images. I got lost in wonder, but after awhile I found I wanted to know more so I went back to the beginning. In the upper right corner, there is a black dot with a white “i” on it. If you click the dot, basic information on the image displays. Because many of them are from the 1950s and 1960s, it was startling to see the great diversity of people he captured.

Today’s Music Selection: “Walk Away” by Tom Waits


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  1. Pingback: Chuck Close, Inspired Photorealist – Nina Fosati

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