Hamiltons is pleased to presented Avedon: Glamorous in celebration of the centenary of Richard Avedon’s birth. In recognition of the gallery’s long-standing association with the artist, and to mark this momentous occasion, the exhibition will present iconic and rarely seen photographs that focus on glamour - a central pillar to his oeuvre. Through his unique ability to invoke an exciting quality within his subjects Avedon could make even the most mundane appealing, bringing a sophisticated glamour to both some of the 20th century’s most notable figures and luminaries.
Richard Avedon, widely acknowledged as one of the pioneers of modern photography, but also one of its most influential proponents was born in New York City in 1923. His first foray into the world of professional photography came about in 1945, under the tutelage of Alexey Brodovitch, then at Harper’s Bazaar. Harper’s Bazaar alongside Vogue during the middle of the twentieth century operated as testing grounds for more conscious and imaginative styles of photography. It is these creative milieus that allowed Avedon to explore and develop his own practise as a fine art photographer, this focus of his was recognised with early solo shows at The Smithsonian (1962) and the Minneapolis Institute of Fine Art (1970). He would become the first living photographer to be honoured with a solo exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1978, followed by a retrospective in 2002. Upon the occasion of that retrospective, Philippe de Montebello, Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art from 1977-2008, remarked that Avedon “has distinguished himself as an artist of immense energy and originality and created many of the iconic images of our time”.
Richard Avedon’s style of portraiture maintained a unique vision that combined the rigor of the studio with the spontaneity of projects on location. He captured with wit and inventiveness the likeness of sitters, both well-known and anonymous and used his distinctive ability to understand human psychology to frame the charisma of his subject.
By 1971 Tina Turner had cemented her reputation as the ‘Queen of Rock n’ Roll’ from the adoration of her fands and admiration of her peer group. Captured in what appears to be mid-performance, with her hair full of motion and her face in deep concentration as she clutches the microphone, Avedon’s pioneering use of light and cinematic eye is exemplified. He was and still remains the photographer that redefined fashion, perceptions of glamour and femininity conveying a wonderous sense of creativity that no other has yet to match. Through Avedon, this portrait is able to illustrate Turner’s electrifying stage presence and personal magnetism. Avedon powerfully encapsulates the passion and transformative prospect of the artist at a time of political and social flux in America.
Marilyn Monroe and her husband, esteemed playwright Arthur Miller, posed together in Avedon’s studio just two days after Monroe’s shoot with Avedon on 6 May 1957, which would yield, not only some of the photographers most important works, but some of the most iconic and personal images of the woman who would become one of the more recognizable faces of the 20th century.
In front of a minimalist background, in a style that was unique to the photographer, Avedon was able to expose natural and penetrating details of two very public personas which had been unseen before. Arthur Miller had achieved fame and notoriety through his Pulitzer prize winning play, Death of a Salesman (1949), and more recently The Crucible (1953), an allegory for persecution in the McCarthy era set during the Salem Witch Trials , for which he received negative attention from the House of Un-American Activities Committee. By 1957, he had been called before Congress and blacklisted for his alleged Communist sympathies. At the same time the growing phenomenon of ‘Marylin Monroe’ had not escaped Avedon’s reading of the cultural moment. By this meeting Monroe had starred in a string of successful films, including “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes,” “How to Marry a Millionaire,” and “The Seven Year Itch” gathering unprecedented popular attention not only for her on screen talent but for the representation of femininity she constructed.
With both Monroe and Miller wary of attention and distancing themselves from the media industry, it was Avedon’s unique ability to foster enduring relationships with his sitters to capture an intimate moment of Monroe embracing her husband with tangible enthusiasm as a smile creeps across his face. The result offers insight on the happiness they felt in the early days of their marriage, which would result in the collaboration on her last picture, The Misfits (1961), and sadly end in divorce in 1961, a year prior to her tragic death in 1962.
In 1964 Richard Avedon and American writer James Baldwin published “Nothing Personal”, a collaborative exploration of American identity, only months after the Civil Rights Act was passed. The two creators met in high school in the Bronx borough of New York City, and formed a bond through their experiences of racism and antisemitism. As the nation was recovering from the shock of President Kennedy’s assassination there was a call for continued mobilization for social justice. “Nothing Personal” explored topics from civil rights to the rise of black nationalism, and the mental health system.
The previous year James Baldwin’s brother David coordinated Avedon’s travels to the South and introduced him to Margueritte Lamkin, a vocal coach to famous actors such as Elizabeth Taylor, Marilyn Monroe and Paul Newman. Travelling through the South, Avedon was able to photograph leaders of the civil rights movement such as Martin Luther King, and through Lamkin’s connections Avedon was able to document young Black Americans at debutante cotillions, shown here in glamorous attire amidst the smiles and movement of the ball, which until very recently had been racially segregated.
He also focused his lens on those who violently exercised the racial hierarchies in America such as the Governor of Alabama George Wallace and George Lincoln Rockwell who founded the American Nazi Party. The project captured the identity crisis The United States was facing in the 1960s in stark opposition to the glossy representations of Hollywood. Avedon employed both frank portraits taken in his studio and unstaged ‘street photography’ to offer an arresting testimony of the
Described as “perfect” by Richard Avedon, Penelope Tree’s angular features and unparalleled poise highlight her individuality which ultimately elevated her into a Swinging London It-Girl alongside Ingrid Boulting and Twiggy.
Just months before this image was taken, a 17-year-old Penelope Tree attended Truman Capote’s legendary Black and & White Ball. She was instantly noticed by photographers Richard Avedon, Cecil Beaton and Vogue’s editor-in-chief at the time Diana Vreeland, and the following day Vreeland contacted her to be photographed by Richard Avedon.
This unexpected work highlights Avedon’s use of composition and movement by the same sitter to achieve a trailblazing cinematic pace within photography. Penelope Tree’s unique beauty and the photographer’s unique vision, and ability to render movement in a single image, capture the zeitgeist of the Swinging Sixties.
Richard Avedon first met Ingrid Boulting in 1969 on a shoot for Vogue magazine. Initially trained as a ballerina in the Royal Ballet School in Richmond, Boulting’s youthful and sophisticated presence quickly established her as a symbol of the ‘Swinging London’ scene. Boulting would become the face of Biba Cosmetics, launched by the Biba department store. The store was a hangout for stars such as Mick Jagger and David Bowie and soon became an emblem of London’s youthful and rebellious era.
Boulting was working as a model in London when Avedon persuaded her to come to New York City, where she quickly became one of Avedon’s preferred models. The pair collaborated on a number of projects including a series of photographs that would form part of Avedon’s solo exhibition at the Marlborough Gallery in New York City in 1975. His pioneering bridge between fashion photography and fine art was critically and commercially acclaimed and cemented Boulting as one of the most coveted models of the period. She would go on to be photographed by other Modern Masters of photography such as Helmut Newton, Jeanloup Sieff and Irving Penn.
As a native New Yorker, Avedon spent countless hours at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in his formative years. It is no doubt where his fascination of the mysterious quality of portraiture was born,and would have provided him with visual references from Art History that he would return to throughout his career. Boulting’s ethereal presence and flowing hair recall Pre-Raphaelite muses painted by Sir Edward Burne-Jones and Lord Leighton which adorned the walls of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Ara Gallant was another of Avedon’s collaborators. Gallant was a hair stylist and makeup artist who’s iconic ‘flying hair’ technique for Vogue in the 1960s often complemented Avedon’s innovative use of movement in his fashion photographs. The abstract quality to the shape of the waves on Boulting’s hair creating a timeless image. Avedon, Boulting and Gallant’s collaboration gathers a visual testimony to ingenuity that is an essential to the evolution of contemporary fashion photography.
This print was exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s 1978 exhibition, which gathered the finest of Avedon’s fashion prints. This unique exhibition print, larger than life, exemplifies Avedon’s true mastery of the art of portraiture.
Andy Warhol and Members of The Factory is one of Richard Avedon’s first portraits taken in a studio after an investment in heavier equipment. Moving away from the flexibility of his Rolleiflex positioned around his waist, by standing next to the more cumbersome camera on a tripoid, Avedon could now shoot his subjects while face to face. Avedon often stated that he preferred working in the studio as, ‘it isolates people from their environment. They become in a sense … symbolic of themselves’.
Against a white background Andy Warhol and his disciples - aspiring avant-garde artists, poets and socialites, pose in a contrasting space to their usual millieu of creation and leisure which imbues a sense of emotional neutrality synonymous with Warhol’s famously affectless manner.
With the subjects stripped bare, the photographer focuses on their mannerisms, expressions and interactions, which are enhanced by the theatrical direction and composition of the work. Avedon’s printing technique, using uncropped negatives which leave a black frame around the image, produce a cinematic quality. This unique tableau sees some of its characters, such as poet Gerard Malanga, reappear in other frames hinting at missing actions. Using a multi-frame shot, each segment appears almost as a frame for a longer film strip.
These murals marked the beginning of his temporary depart from fashion magazines for the next decade. This shoot marked a seminal progression in Avedon’s technique that he would use in some of his most influential portraits. With Avedon’s unique ability to transform one single shot into an incommensurable piece of social history Andy Warhol and members of The Factory expounds the zeitgeist of 1960s American counter-culture.
Adam Clayton Powell Jr. (1908-1972) was a Minister, Congressman and civil rights activist. He was the first person of colour to be elected to the New York City council in 1941, and in 1945 he became the first African American congressman to be elected to the House of Representatives from New York State, a position that he was to hold for 11 successive terms. Powell ran on a campaign that supported fair employment practices, and a ban on poll taxes and lynching. After 16 years sitting in the House, he became Chairman of the Education and Labour Committee in 1961, at the time it was the highest office held by an African American. In this position he supported the passing of important civil and social rights legislation. Powell courted controversy and lead a flamboyant lifestyle which was well publicised and jarred with his social activism, all of which led to the creation of a mythology that was to surround this contradictory and fascinating character.
This portrait of Powell is featured in the pages of “Nothing Personal”(1964), a book Avedon published in collaboration with his longtime friend, writer James Baldwin. The book explored damaging racial hierarchies and the false myths that permeated throughout American society at the time. Captured against Avedon’s signature stark white background, the great democratiser which positioned all of Avedon’s subjects equally, furthermore it negated Avedon’s personal sentiment and feelings allowing for an attempt to capture the essence of the sitter. Powell appears as a powerful man possessed with gracefulness and persuasive mannerisms.
Baldwin’s brother David introduced Avedon to Powell at his Harlem office. It was through David that Avedon would also be introduced to notable other sitters in the book, such as Malcom X and to Margueritte Lamkin, through whom Avedon was to gain access to a great many people and milieus which contribute greatly to the photographic element of “Nothing Personal”. The book has become a unique record of activists, politicians, artists, extremists and the multifarious individuals that constituted the warring factions and their sentiments that was 1960’s America.
This iconic work was born out of the legendary collaboration between fashion designer Gianni Versace and Richard Avedon through the 1980s and 1990s. This creative relationship started with the designer’s debut, the 1980 Spring/Summer collection and lasted until Versace’s tragic death in 1997.
The ultra-glamorous designs of the Italian designer are captured through Avedon’s unique choreographic ingenuity - playing with geometry rendering some of the most memorable faces of the time, such as the illustrious Jerry Hall or Gia Carangi, as classical statues.
Reflecting on his ongoing collaboration with Avedon, Versace said:
“It is sometimes said that Versace is so avant-garde. I do not think it is true. In my own work, I look for the roots of classicism and I try to translate this classical style into something that has modernist details. And this is what Mr. Avedon understands about me. You know, he always makes references to classical taste when he takes (sic) photos for me. […] Art is always the reference.”
Avedon’s trailblazing campaigns for Versace marked the photographer’s return to fashion after years of focusing on portraiture. Through Versace’s campaigns Avedon was able to find the creative freedom he felt he had lost in past fashion editorials. This extraordinary work epitomises Avedon’s highly personal ability to capture Versace’s ground-breaking sensuality. Employing his signature minimalist background Avedon’s image is exclusively composed by the supermodel bodies, blurring the lines between couture and bodies. Avedon immerses us in a bodies fearless spirit in which flesh and garment; life and beauty are inseparable.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Richard Avedon (1923–2004) Avedon’s first museum retrospective was held at the Smithsonian Institution in 1962. Many major museum shows followed, including two at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (1978 and 2002), the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (1970), the Amon Carter Museum of American Art (1985), the Whitney Museum of American Art (1994). His first book, Observations, with an essay by Truman Capote, was published in 1959. He continued to publish books of his works throughout his life, including Nothing Personal in 1964 (with an essay by James Baldwin), Portraits 1947–1977 (1978, with an essay by Harold Rosenberg), An Autobiography (1993), Evidence 1944–1994 (1994, with essays by Jane Livingston and Adam Gopnik), and The Sixties (1999, with interviews by Doon Arbus). Collections include the Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; and numerous others worldwide. The Richard Avedon Foundation established during his lifetime is based in New York and houses his archive.
AVEDON: GLAMOROUS17 MAY - 11 AUGUST 2023