In Milan at Palazzo Reale, the retrospective "Richard Avedon Relationships" is dedicated to the famous American photographer who, from the post-war period onwards, revolutionized the world of photography, especially fashion photography.
Open until 29 January 2023, the Palazzo Reale exhibition traces over 60 years of Avedon’s career, who passed away in 2004 at the age of 81, through 106 images from the collection of the Center for Creative Photography (CCP) in Tucson (USA) and from Richard Avedon Foundation (USA).
Born in NY in 1923, he soon fell in love with photography and, after abandoning his philosophy studies at Columbia, in 1942 he enlisted in the Navy as a photographer. He attends lessons, becoming more and more passionate, satisfied by this art, still not considered such in the distant post-war period, which allows him to tame his restless soul by capturing moments of life with passionate voracity.
I think charm is the ability to be truly interested in other people.
Precisely during a course he taught, in 1944 he met Alexey Brodovitch, legendary art director of Harper’s Bazaar magazine, who, fascinated by the young photographer’s talent, initiated him into the world of fashion, at the time still very conservative and far from those logics of spectacularization to which we are accustomed today.
It is the beginning of a revolution in which Avedon abandons the classic studio poses of the models to involve them in real visual “screenplays” en plein air, giving them a soul, often alluring and irreverent, and playing with those harmonious plastic poses moving chorals which will later become one of his distinctive features.
He overturns the classic canons even in studio, playing with large formats and portraying faces with daring close-ups, filling the whole frame, thus managing to reveal, thanks to his extraordinary empathic skills, traits that no one else would have been able to see.
A feature that will soon make him not only one of the most appreciated photographers by all the magazines of the time, from Vogue to the New Yorker, but also one of the most sought-after portraitists, famous for being able to capture the truest soul of the people he framed in pictures.
A “price” that even celebrities and politicians have been willing to pay in order to appear so extraordinarily strong, harmonious, and vibrant. Just look at some of his masterpieces on display to understand how great this “gift” of his was: like the portrait of Marilyn Monroe from 1967, in which the American actress is captured beautifully in a moment of vulnerability, or that of Marlene Dietrich in a Dior’s turban from 1955, shot in close-up as she lights a cigarette with a magnetic look that unveils her charisma.
The exhibition begins with Avedon’s first fashion shots which already demonstrate all his genius. Like the photo “Dovima with the Elephants” of 1955. The famous model, the first to adopt a single name (made up of the first two letters of her three names Dorothy Virginia Margaret) and one of the highest paid of the time, earning 75 dollars an hour, she is portrayed in a Dior evening dress at the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris between two elephants, in a pose that further emphasizes the beauty of the silhouette of her dress.
Avedon’s skill even in the more “commercial” shots can be perceived in the 1948 shot “The shoe designed by André Perugia” for Christian Dior in which the fur-covered heel in the foreground assumes monumental proportions against the background of the Eiffel Tower, creating a composition as bold as it was unprecedented for the time.
A clear and very recognizable stylistic code that becomes more and more sophisticated and refined in the most recent fashion shots. As in the portraits of the American mannequin of Chinese origin China Machado, stunning in evening pajamas designed by Princess Irene Galitzine in 1965, which Avedon helped launch when he decided to photograph her for Harper’s Bazaar overcoming the objections of the editors regarding his choice of a non-white model.
Or the legendary portrait of the German actress and model Nastassja Kinski in which she is wrapped in a python, created for American Vogue in 1981, and subsequently published as a poster, selling over 2 million copies.
The exhibition concludes with the marvelous shots that Avedon took in the 80s and 90s, at the peak of the Italian fashion system, fruit in particular of his happy collaboration and friendship with Donatella and Gianni Versace which lead him to photograph all the most famous supermodels of the time, from Linda Evangelista to Christy Turlington.
An unmissable exhibition which, in addition to recounting his work in fashion, is made up of a total of 10 sections, also investigating other issues, such as his commitment to social denunciation and the fight for civil rights.
Maniac of perfection in both technique and aesthetics, Avedon could photograph for days before deciding that an image suited him. This anecdote at the beginning of his career remains famous, when in 1949 Life magazine commissioned him a series of images of NY. Not satisfied with his shots of him, he preferred to give the money back rather than to deliver anything that wasn’t “extraordinary”.