Even in the early years of his work as a fashion photographer, Richard Avedon was much interested in motion, or rather in the sense of motion, since his interest was not analytical but hortatory. As a young photographer in the early fifties Avedon seemed to think that motion was intrinsically a good thing. It is possible that Avedon was in fact one of the architects, unwitting or otherwise, of the Jet Set concept, which was based on the premise that people with style do not alight. Among his many memorable portraits, it is difficult to call one to mind that shows the subject sitting down.
In the beginning Avedon attempted to deal with the subject of motion in a rather literal way, by shooting moving subjects at slow shutter speeds, thus describing forms that tended to resemble feathery-edged projectiles. Some viewers felt that these pictures expressed movement. Whether they did or not, they did not describe a great deal about the object in motion. Perhaps for this reason Avedon later radically revised his approach to the problem. He decided (it would seem) that the most interesting thing that photography could do with movement was destroy it, and show its crystal-clear fossil, suspended in perpetuity, like the once-human figures disinterred at Vesuvius, seemingly overtaken in mid-stride; or, more nearly, like faces illuminated by a catastrophic explosion, the significance of which has not yet registered in their expressions.
As the newspapers prove again each day, there is something fascinating and subtly disturbing about a photograph of a person open-mouthed in speech. The effect can be comic or ludicrous or tragic, but the root cause is the same. Life has been arrested.
The importance of Avedon's work lies in the fact that it constitutes a coherent and challenging composite portrait of many of the mythic figures and spear-carriers of the worlds of art, style, and higher salesmanship during the past twenty years. The character drawn in that composite portrait is of a piece, persuasive, and less than reassuring. It remains for time to determine whether that character is the product of Avedon's insight or of his fancy.
from "Looking at Photographs" by John Szarkowski
Richard Avedon's In the American West is widely regarded as a landmark project in photographic history and a definitive expression of the power of photographic art. First published by Abrams in 1985 in conjunction with an exhibition at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas.
This comprehensive volume offers a definitive survey, from Avedon's groundbreaking early photographs for Harper's Bazaar through his constantly inventive contributions to Vogue, Egoiste, and The New Yorker. Each carefully selected image represents an artistic collaboration with significant models, stylists, and designers. Avedon Fashion accompanies the first major exhibition to survey this body of work, at the International Center of Photography in May 2009.
- I don't really remember the day when I stood behind my camera with Henry Kissinger on the other side. I am sure he doesn't remember it either. But this photograph is here now to prove that no amount of kindness on my part could make this photograph mean exactly what he ---or even I--- wanted it to mean. It's a reminder of the wonder and terror that is a photograph.