Richard Avedon Show: Ian Potter Centre
Richard Avedon grew up in New York when anyone could live there, even not really rich people. Richard Avedon’s disciplinarian Dad owned a dress shop on Fifth Avenue. His mama loved dresses and art and encouraged an insatiable thirst for culture within her son. He joined the Young Men’s Hebrew Association (YMHA) Camera Club at age 12 and experimented with the Family’s Box Brownie. Young Dicky took to this new contraption like a duck to water and never looked back. His beautiful, troubled young sister Louise was the first of his muses. She sat patiently while Richard learned the mysteries of capturing light, dark, tragic beauty and all that other technical crap that photographers like to bang on about.
In 1946, Dicky used the optimism of the WWII ending and his own 23 years of youthful exuberance to open his own photographic studio. Some people are luck including Avedon Sr, because women began wearing dresses again. It all went well. Very well, very quickly.
You know you’ve made it when, just 11 short years after opening that first studio, Hollywood makes a film based on your life. And casts Fred Astaire as you. Funny Face (1957) is a fictional, musical account of the lifestyle of fashion photographer Dick Avery. Dick works for Quality Magazine and Editor Ms. Prescott. Her character is like a prequel to The Devil Wears Prada, only with more PIZAZZ and song and dance routines:
“Quality Magazine cannot fail the great American Woman, who stands out there naked, waiting for me to tell her what to wear!” declares Ms. Prescott in this 5 minute musical medley from the film, Think Pink.
From the lofty heights of commercial success as a fashion photographer, who slips easily into popular culture, Avedon develops a social conscience. He photographs the changing political landscape of America in the ‘60s. He takes portraits of many of the twentieth century’s cultural movers and shakers (who he was no doubt partying with too, lucky bastard).
In the 1970s, he’s directing TV commercials and here are some examples of his art as revealed through advertising. The 1979 Wonderbra commercial has a very precious jingle:
“Wonderbra, to be free and alive, is a wonderful thing. To do what you want to do, just because you’re you, that’s your special appeal. To show how you feel, you care about the shape you’re in. Wonderful! Wonderful! Wonderbra!”
I couldn’t believe this shizzle! Here are more ad links where Richard has added himself into the frame too, featuring as a vibrant creator, surrounded by an arch male entourage and moving powerful models around his vision. Ben Stiller may have researched this material for his Zoolander movie…
Nastassya Kinski lying on the cold concrete floor for 2 hours while a snake writhed over her naked body:
“The snake rose to the moment, she rose to the moment, I rose to the moment!” said Avedon, who later put the image on a poster and sold 2 million copies.
Along with decades of advertising work, Richard Avedon also shows in museums. He set up the Richard Avedon Foundation before his death. The Foundation was very keen for me not to take photos of the opening of a show of his photos at the Ian Potter Centre at Melbourne Uni. Me? Taking advantage of Richard Avedon? I liked the idea. I too have vision, just with no snakes in. Wakey Wakey! Hands off snakey!
Richard Avedon worked extensively with a 15-year-old Brooke Shields on the Calvin Klein jeans campaign (print and TV). Avedon said: “Brooke (Shields) is a lightning rod. She focuses the inarticulate rage people feel about the decline in contemporary morality and destruction of innocence in the world.” Newsweek, February 9, 1981
That’s one way of looking at it… Here is a 3.41-minute montage of a variety of these Richard Avedon directed/Calvin Klein-uses-Brooke-Shields ads, for your consideration. My partner found them well creepy and our daughter had to roll her eyes during yet another one of his anti-modeling talks.
The show has 80 photos and is worth a look, especially the Dorothy Parker shot. She’s awesome.
Richard Avedon: People
Ian Potter Museum of Art
6 December 2014 – 15 March 2015