By: STEPHANIE DAVIS SMITH
Two decades after his death, posthumous praise for the renowned photographer Richard Avedon just keeps growing.
Avedon 100 began in May 2023 as an exhibit at Gagosian Gallery in New York City. It was so popular that the show extended its run. The new book is the second-best thing for South Floridians who couldn’t swing by Chelsea to check it out in person.
The popular exhibition represented six decades of his oeuvre, and Avedon 100, the book recently released by Rizzoli, does the same. It ingeniously breaks down his extensive work into digestible moments, highlighting the photographer’s profound impact on visual culture.
In its foreword, Larry Gagosian aptly notes that Avedon “began his career at the nexus of the postwar explosion of visual culture and societal change, capturing it all for glossy periodicals.” The book’s 20 separate sections meticulously navigate Avedon’s career, revealing the depth and diversity of his subjects and the evolving nuances of his style.
Avedon’s genius unfolds as you turn the pages, offering readers a panoramic view of his work, from the iconic “sad” Marilyn to the dynamic 1971 portrait of Tina Turner. But there is more to gawk at on these pages, including Charlie Chaplin and Cat Power.
A particularly noteworthy aspect is the diverse array of cultural figures contributing to the volume. From Hilton Als to Naomi Campbell, Elton John to Spike Lee, each luminary selects a photograph by Avedon and reflects on its impact. A kaleidoscope of 150 voices attests to Avedon’s universal influence, inspiring not only long-gone fashion icons like Diana Vreeland but also resonating with Millennials like Karlie Kloss. The book further shows how Avedon’s journey from his start at Young Men’s Hebrew Association Camera Club to becoming the lead photographer at Vogue is a testament to his innate genius.
At the heart of Avedon’s brilliance lies his ability to shape the fashion narrative, as exemplified by his audacious portrayal of Mike Nichols and Suzy Parker impersonating Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in 1961—an early precursor to the role-playing antics of later celebrity power couples (think Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie’s playing house in “W” magazine’s tongue-wagging feature). The photographer’s lens has captured a staggering array of subjects. In a statement on the breadth of his vision, Avedon’s later works focused on oil field workers and politicians, showcasing a profound evolution in his artistic trajectory to focus on the beauty of everyday Americans.
At more than 300 pages, the heavy volume features over 275 illustrations, including behind-the-scenes documentary images of Avedon at work and statements by each participating cultural figure on the significance of their selection. Avedon 100 costs, what else, $100. A small price to pay for Avedon’s photographic legacy to love and to hold. | rizzolibookstore.com