An Ode to Avedon

One of my favorite photographers — not just portrait photographers, but photographers, period — is Richard Avedon. His work, of course, is incredible. But what I might appreciate even more than the work itself is his philosophy and perspective toward photography and portraiture.

Avedon believed that you can’t possibly show or reveal the “trueness” of a person in a single photograph. Instead, you are capturing just a small fragment or piece of that person.

The “truth” is a fallacy. No, it would actually be more accurate to say the “truth” is a construct. A good portrait photographer will come to a session with an idea or concept of what they’re trying to bring out of the subject. The photographer should be trying to show, reveal or elicit a particular response. It’s almost like an orchestration on the part of the photographer, and, in a sense, a performance by his or her subject.

This is not to say that the photograph should be a fabrication. But it is a creation, and it’s a creation rooted in something inside the subject. It’s the photographer’s job to identify that something, and reveal it in a way that’s photographically interesting. The portrait, moreover, is the work and product of the photographer, not the subject, Avedon felt.

So while a good portrait might provide a true glimpse of someone, it’s not “the truth.” There is no single, standalone “truth.”

Richard Avedon in Mabou Mines in 1975 . In response to various media inquiries involving a recently published "memoir" involving Richard Avedon, we would like to say the following: 2017 has generally been a terrible year for truth. . The book in question was written with blithe disregard for fact and is filled with untruths of various kinds. It is clear that it contains an enormous number of errors. Then there are outright inventions, constructed out of whole cloth, some of them incredibly bizarre and macabre, and all of which appear to have been written deliberately to cause harm. It will take time to compile all of the inaccuracies. . Obviously there are betrayals, not the least of which is by a former doctor who chose to divulge a patient's confidential information. But there are others as well, by colleagues and even friends who seem not to understand that while of course they have the freedom of speech, they do not have the right to traduce. It is a sad reminder that we should all be careful about whom we trust. . Conversely, there are sections of the book that plagiarize and violate Dick's own private writings about his early life. . Let us finally say that we respect Dick's personal life and would never comment on his private relationships of any kind over the course of a lifetime. All people deserve that consideration. And his death 13 years ago does not change that. . We will continue to address these matters in the weeks and months to come. In the meantime, despite the above, we remain grateful for all of the good things in our lives, including Dick's amazing art and archive, and the memory of the person he actually was. . We wish you and your families a very Happy Thanksgiving. Be well.