Avedon, Richard


American, 1923–2004


Apart from being the most innovative and successful fashion photographer of his generation, Richard Avedon was also profoundly engaged in the political movements of the 1960s and 1970s. Active in documenting the civil rights movement in the United States, he published a book of political portraits with James Baldwin called “Nothing Personal“ (1964), described as a photographic polemic against racism. In the 1970s, Avedon covered the American antiwar movement and made portraits of countercultural activists. It was therefore unsurprising that he was approached by “Rolling Stone“ magazine to make formal portraits of the candidates in the U.S. presidential election of 1976. Avedon, however, chose to undertake a much more ambitious project: to create a pantheon of portraits of the American political establishment. The resulting project, titled The Family, filled an entire issue of the magazine, published on October 21, 1976, with 69 searing portraits of government officials, statesmen, corporate chairmen, secretaries, lawyers, union leaders, and presidents. Each person is presented in Avedon’s signature manner: posed in stark black-and-white against a solid white background. Avedon’s anthropological approach, leaving his subjects relatively unadorned, isolated the powerful from their typical trappings of authority. Collectively, the portraits provide a snapshot of American leaders at a historical moment of national crisis, but they also reveal the genetic profile of an elite power clique who were in control, but often out of touch.

Artworks by Avedon, Richard

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