Tuesday, October 05, 2004

In Memoriam

Richard Avedon, the photography legend, died last weekend of a cerebral hemmorage while shooting pictures for The New Yorker Magazine in Texas (further proof that the lone star state is a place to avoid). He was a very energetic 81 years old.

Avedon was one of Smartmom's heroes, and many of his photographs rank among her favorites. Especially the close-up of Marian Anderson's face, eyes shut tight, her singing mouth a tall-oval. Or the double portrait of Phillip Glass and Chuck Close sitting crossed legged in chairs. Who can forget the the panoramic view of the Chicago Seven or the gigantic print of June Leaf, looking so earthy, so sexy, and real, that it took Smartmom's breath away when she saw it at Avedon's exhibition at the Metropolitan all those years ago.

Smartmom never heard Avedon speak, and knows little about his biography. She does, however, remember that he, like Diane Arbus, was the child of a clothing store owner. He was a born and bred New Yorker, who gracefully straddled the "high/low" worlds of advertising, magazines and fine art. He gave money to civil rights and other good causes, and was the inspiration for the debonair photographer played by Fred Astaire in "Funny Face." Avedon had a difficult relationship with his father, a Russian Jew, and took raw, loving pictures of him as he lay dying.

Avedon was also a big influence on Hepcat. The influence is most evident in the huge black and white portraits of friends, street people, and teen mothers that Hepcat was printing in his Ludlow Street darkroom back when he met Smartmom in 1986. It is the directness and honesty of Avedon's work that Hepcat admired: "His pictures really let the subjects speak for themselves," Hepcat says. "The consistency of the work and the sameness from picture to picture really help differentiate the subjects from one another."

Like much portraiture, Avedon's pictures are also very much about the artist himself. They reveal a great deal about his process and his interests: "Sometimes I think all my pictures are just pictures of me," Avedon told an interviewer. "My concern is the human predicament; only what I consider the human predicament may simply be my own."

It's so strange when a celebrity hero dies. You don't really know what to do with the grief. The world seems a little emptier, a little sad. But there's no shivah to sit, no funeral to attend. It's like when Marlon Brando died -- it was the week after Reagan's funeral and all the flags were flying at half-mast. Smartmom kept pretending that the flags were flying for Marlon and his immortal gang of characters that will live forever: Stanley Kowolski, Vito Corleone, the biker in "The Wild One, and last but not least, Terry Mallone in "On the Waterfront."

Likewise, Avedon leaves behind indelible images that we, and those yet to be born, have to keep. Forever. They distill a kind of inner truth about the artists, performers, cowboys, politicians, activists, fashion models and writers who were his subjects. And yet, as Avedon himself said, "All photographs are accurate. None of them is the truth."

Goodbye Avedon. Thank you for showing us how to see.


At 4:58 PM, Blogger mamainwaiting said...

AM, really loved your piece about Avedon. very personal and an excellent summary of his life and work. Wish you could publish it somewhere. love, GA

At 8:07 PM, Blogger brooklynfox said...

Smartmom, I think you should send your Avedon obit to the Times for a letter to the editor. Please, please do that. RFJ

At 6:06 AM, Blogger mrs. cleavage said...

Me three. Eloquent is the word that comes to mind. WB


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