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Richard Avedon –Fixing the Ineffable


Richard Avedon’s photographs have impressed themselves on the consciousness of successive generations through their very singular authority. If any photographer deserves to have that over-used term ‘iconic’ attached to so many of his images it is surely Avedon. For in each sphere in which he was active he made pictures that both fix and transcend their moment – photographs that have made their mark as the most true and emblematic representations of their subject.

Avedon’s great fashion pictures, for instance, do so much more than illustrate the trends of a particular season or the skills of a specific designer. They capture the very essence of fashion and of sophisticated, stage-managed beauty; he fixes memorably the ineffable yet magical spirit of high style and of glamorous seduction. And in the realm of portraiture, time and again it is Richard Avedon – that intense, intuitive, restive force of nature – who has fixed in the light-chemistry of silver salts the defining images of so many figures – both the celebrated and pre-eminent and the anonymous and unsung heroes of our world.

At the heart of Avedon’s enterprise is a highly effective amalgam of rigour and of obsessive drive. As regards technique, he has always tended to oscillate between two distinct options: on the one hand, the fluid spontaneity of location or reportage work, perfectly demonstrated in his Paris fashion images; on the other hand, the pared-down disciplines of the formal approach we see in the majority of his portrait work. Here, we find him working with the specifics of a large-format, tripod-mounted camera and the bright, shadow-less, all-embracing and all-revealing light of a neutral white studio or improvised outdoor equivalent.

In neither mode did Avedon become a slave to stylistic devices. He left it to his legion imitators to borrow the elements of what became a style; but for Avedon, mastery of technique was the given that freed him to explore the eternal drama that underpins his entire oeuvre and that gives weight to every picture – the drama of the human condition. For all his images are about the definition and assertion of identity and all derive their profound strength from the photographer’s own restless search for meaning and for grace in our existence.

Philippe Garner

Photographs from Richard Avedon Foundation
Samedi 20 novembre 2010
à 17h Lots 1-65
9, avenue Matignon, 75008 Paris

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