My Avedon Review – Artillery Magazine – January 2011
In the ANNENBERG WING of the Palm Springs Art Museum’s current exhibition “Richard Avedon: Fashion, Stage, and Screen,” the grand master of the lens is presented in two self-portraits. In the 1980 piece from his “In the American West” series, he raises his hands as if he is just about to give some instruction or perhaps, just naturally inclined to orchestrate a subject into revealing its true inner personae. The other self-portrait, taken many years later, shows the man still in a flurry of thought and process. Side by side, they reflect the renowned photographer’s constant meticulous eye, unwavering over four decades of work; as well as his signature style of utilizing a shallow depth of field and a stark visual and graphic perspective to emphasize revealed authenticity.
But the portraits also present him as the grand director of the images, which surround him in this survey, a master of capturing the personality of any subject as if each were his personal performer and his photographic frame – his specific canvas.
Known for setting new precedents for fashion and portraiture from the 1940s through the 1970s, Avedon’s work invigorated the way we considered traditional images of the iconic from vogue to celebrity.
The “Fashion” portion of this exhibit denotes Avedon’s elevation of haute couture from stiff garments on the posed model to living, breathing moments of textural rapture where fabric takes flight or confidently presents its own smooth lines.
The “Stage and Screen” portion sheds new light on the talented who have become inherently accustomed to being on stage by emphasizing movement, or the lines of the body within context of the action. Or as in the case of En Pointe, where Rudolph Nureyev’s foot finds center stage within the frame, we find the stark truth of ballet’s craft in the calloused heel and magnified flesh where hair stands up, electrified by the agony and the ecstasy of the dance.
In the section “Writers and Westerners,” we see Truman Capote in 1955 with his nude chest exposed and head cocked to the side, daring and flamboyant in the thralls of his success as a writer, only to find another portrait taken 20 years later capturing the more seasoned author’s provocative and sinister gaze -still taunting, although weathered.
In “Famous Performers,” we see Avedon’s directness in representing our cultural legends beyond projected impressions and into that private place where their artistic magic takes flight. Jimmy Durante is caught dead-on in his mischievousness. Marian Anderson’s mouth, a solid “O” of powerful velocity as she sings, positioned off-center of the screen as if caught in a self-created wind turbine. And Louis Armstrong, a frenetic blur of motion save for two soulful eyeballs as he blows poignancy from his instrument.
Although an overall view of his work bears similar characteristics, it’s the nuances of individuality that occur on second glance per individual piece that mark the artistry of Avedon’s calculated eye. Techniques like blur, focus and motion take the place of color, brushstroke and medium to present the physical and psychological timbres.
Capturing the unexpected, Avedon set new standards for photographers to follow and an impetus to go beyond, influencing talents like Bruce Weber, Helmut Newton, and even his friend Diane Arbus. The photographer injected our collective vision with a hunger to probe deeper into what lies beneath, as equally applicable to the future of fine art photography as to the pages of Rolling Stone or Vogue.
Avedon once said, “I have always been aware of a relationship between madness and beauty.” This exhibition is a refreshing reminder of this notion in an age of the cinematic airbrush and the polished, perfected facade.
Ends January 30, 2011