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SCL Photo Podcast 30 - Nothing Personal by Richard Avedon

SCL PodcastRichard Avedon, who changed the world of fashion and portrait photography, surprises with this dark and personal work.

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Show notes:

Featured Posts:

Video Review, If We Shadows, By David Bailey.

Photowalk 61 - Gosport Ferry Gardens.

Photowalk 62 - Brockhurst To Forton.

Photowalk 63 - Gosport Harbour Front.

One photo a day project.

Richard Avedon "Nothing Personal" Book Review

Richard Avedon's Official Website. Loads of stuff on here, excerpts from his books, lots of his photographs, all at reasonable sizes. This is how a photographers site should be, with loads of great images to look at. Sometimes the flash interface can be a bit fiddly, but stick with it.

Richard Avedon's Bio on Wikipedia.

Richard Avedon on PDN.

Richard Avedon interview with Charlie Rose from 1999.

My Notes:

“A portrait is not a likeness. The moment an emotion or fact is transformed into a photograph it is no longer a fact but an opinion. There is no such thing as inaccuracy in a photograph. All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth.” - Richard Avedon.

Richard Avedon, born 1923, and he passed away in 2004.

Richard Avedon changed the face of fashion photography and portrait photography forever. Ask any top portrait or fashion photographer about who they've been influenced by, and chances are Avedon's name will crop up. Richard Avedon also photographed the Civil Rights Movements in the USA during the '50s and '60s, the Vietnam War protests, and the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Richard Avedon photographed the rich and famous, in fact they would often seek him out to take their portraits, but also the ordinary and everyday. Although his name might not be familiar, if you're a fan of the Beatles, just think back to the psychedelic portraits of John, Paul, George and Ringo taken in '67, and the more restrained photographs for the White Album in 1968.

It's difficult to try and encapsulate and summarize the work of such a great photographer in words, so you've really got to check out and look through his images to truly appreciate the work and the art.

Born in New York, USA in 1923, Richard Avedon started his career as a photographer in 1942, working for the Merchant Navy taking identification photo's of Sailors. A couple of years later he got a job as an advertising photographer with a New York Department Store, and was quickly spotted by Alexey Brodovitch, who was the art director of Harpers Bazaar, the famous American Fashion Magazine, where he went on to be their Chief Photographer.

Making images for Vogue and Life, Avedon left Harper's Bazaar to become head photographer at Vogue, shooting most of their covers from 1973 to 1988.

Avedon came into the world of Fashion Photography when it was a very static medium. Models were treated like, and photographed as, shop-window dummies, usually expressionless and still. Avedon introduced movement and emotion, shooting on location or in his minimalist studio. He introduced character to this previously staid and stuffy world.

Avedon's work outside of the fashion arena is wide and varied, but his portraits are always marked with the personality of his subjects. Determined to produce the best, Avedon would talk with the people he wanted to photograph, soliciting reactions, so that he could capture, hopefully, a clearer view into the inner soul of the person.

Working into his '80s, Avedon died of a brain hemorrhage while on assignment for The New Yorker Magazine, a project called "On Democracy". A true master of photography to the last.

Today I'm looking at his book, "Nothing Personal", a collaboration with James Baldwin, who wrote the accompanying essay with weaves through the pages of the book.

Nothing Personal is a large photobook, the full-page prints are about 14" high and 10 and a half inches wide. It's a collection of portraits of ordinary people, politicians, artists, the famous, and mental asylum in-mates.

Produced at a time of great racial and political upheaval in the USA it's great to look at this book now, days after the inauguration of the first black president of the United States, to hopefully think about how much has changed in the 40 years since it was first published in 1964.

I've checked on Amazon, and although "Nothing Personal" is available to buy, it's very expensive, so I recommend you try and order it from your local library. It's also not what I expected from Avedon. I thought it would be a book full of fashion photos, and the rich and famous at their finest, but this is a much more personal, darker work.

On following pages we can gaze deep into the eyes of Dwight Eisenhower, former President of the USA and architect of the liberation of France, yet just before we have the sneering gaze of George Wallace, the Governor of Alabama, a champion of the segregation of black and whites.

We can see a touching portrait of Marilyn Monroe, seemingly shot between poses as she looks vulnerable and alone. There is the blurred photo of Malcolm X, the larger than life image of Martin Luther Kings son, and the candid shots of people playing at the beach.

It is in his photographs of inmates of a mental asylum where we can find the most disturbing images. It's like looking into a version of hell, yet their are moments of tenderness between the patients, and at the time these must have been shocking images indeed.

The book finishes with an image of hope - remember that this was a time of riots, political murders and America was slipping into the Vietnam War, yet Avedon leaves us with a group portrait of the Members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, taken in Atlanta, Georgia. Its a mixed group, both of races and ages, all gazing confidently into the camera, saying, without words, that things will change, and here we are 40 years later, and they have.

So, when I ordered this book from the library I just assumed it would be a book of fashion and celebrity portraits, it's far from that, and show's that Richard Avedon is a Photographer who's work we should all study, enjoy and share.

I'll finish the review, as I started, with a couple of quotes from the man himself,

I often feel that people come to me to be photographed as they would go to a doctor or a fortune teller--to find out how they are. So they’re dependent on me. I have to engage them. Otherwise there’s nothing to photograph. The concentration has to come from me and involve them. Sometimes the force of it grows so strong that sounds in the studio go unheard. Time stops. We share a brief, intense intimacy. But it’s unearned. It has no future. And when the sitting is over—when the picture is done—there’s nothing left except the photograph...the photograph and a kind of embarrassment. They leave..and I don’t know them. I’ve hardly heard what they’ve said. If I meet them a week later in a room somewhere, I expect they won’t recognize me. Because I don’t feel I was really there. At least the part of me that was is now in the photograph. And the photographs have a reality for me that the people don’t. It’s through the photographs that I know them. - Richard Avedon.

If a day goes by without my doing something related to photography, it's as though I've neglected something essential to my existence, as though I had forgotten to wake up. I know that the accident of my being a photographer has made my life possible - Richard Avedon.

Photo Assignment For February - "The Third Dimension"

Right, time to announce February's assignment, go out and create a couple of photo's with the phrase "The Third Dimension" in mind. I'll start on a new thread on out Flickr group over the next couple of days, and it's the usual usual, two new photographs, with the theme "The Third Dimension", post them to the thread in medium size.

Just for fun, no prizes, but this assignment dovetails very nicely with,

Long Term Assignment - "Where I Live"

Here's the thread on Flickr.

Ok, the threads open over on our Flickr group, and quite a few people have expressed an interest to take part and some have even posted some photographs. I've gone off a bit quick and posted quite a few, but they're really just test shots to get a feel for the assignment, and I'll either re-shoot them or choose different subjects.

Just to go over again the assignment, for listeners new to the Podcast, what we're going to be doing, and everyone's welcome to join in, is over the next 12 months everybody is encouraged to take 12 photographs on the them "where I live" and post them to the thread in the flickr group. The subject can really be anything - landscapes, architecture, places, people, festivals, street parties, etc, but make it your best work, because in January 2010 we're going to put together a photobook of the images, available for everyone to buy if they want to.

Depending on how many photographs we end up with will effect how big the book is, and how many shots each photographer will get in the book, but we may end up doing several versions, or a couple of volumes. Each photographer will choose which photographs they want in from the ones they've shot - they'll be no voting, but for an independent view you may ask others for advice about which they think are the best photographs.

The journey is the thing here, there's going to be all sorts of different photographers taking part, from beginners to advanced, so you can post test shots and get advice, or perhaps ask for help with post processing, we'll all be improving along the way.

It's definitely not a competition, but just imagine around this time next year, you'll get a knock at the door and the post-man will deliver this beautiful book, not only with some of your own photographs in, but from everyone else too, with the memories of how we've all evolved as photographers over the last year, how we've improved our technical skills and artistic vision.

Technique challenges (No Time Limit):

No Sky Landscapes

Fill The Frame!

Dawn / Dusk shots

A Landscape Style Shot With Strong Foreground Interest

Remember to email me your photos if you'd like to me work on them for the Photo Workbench.

To contact me, just click on the link near the top of the page under the big picture.

Thanks for listening, see you on Flickr!

Join the Flickr Group!

Cheers, Rob.

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