Who, What, Why | Richard Avedon at Frieze Masters
— October 16, 2012 —
A step by step guide to highlights across fashion, art and culture
Loretta, Loudilla, and Kay Johnson, co-presidents, Loretta Lynn Fan Club, Wild Horse, Colorado, June 16, 1983 Photograph by Richard Avedon © The Richard Avedon FoundationWho? The late Richard Avedon, whose six decade photographic career helped to defined America's image of style, beauty and culture during the later half of the twentieth century. His intimate portraits of both unknown subjects and celebrated figures including Truman Capote, Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol, defined his ability to capture the endearing vulnerability of the human form. In 1992, when Avedon was appointed as the first staff photographer for The New York Times, he orchestrated a prolific change in the role of photography in the printed press. Particularly with his provocative, post-apocalyptic fashion shoot In Memory of the Late Mr. and Mrs. Comfort, which featured model Nadja Auermann posing with skeletons whilst wearing the visionary designs of Comme des Garçons, Jean Paul Gaultier and Yohji Yamamoto.
What? A selection from Richard Avedon's legendary In The American West series was presented by the Gagosian gallery at Frieze Masters, a new addition to this year's annual Frieze London. Masters offered a contemporary perspective on historical works produced before the twenty-first century, allowing rare objects from antiquity to stand alongside those by contemporary artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Alberto Giacometti and of course, Avedon.
"Avedon's intimate portraits of both unknown subjects and celebrated figures including Truman Capote, Francis Bacon and Andy Warhol, defined his ability to capture the endearing vulnerability of the human form."
Why? In 1979, Avedon began a six year journey through Western America, where he produced a series of intimate black and white portraits of those he encountered. His subjects included oil field workers, prisoners, bartenders and a thirteen-year-old rattlesnake skinner, each framed within a minimal white background. Removed from the constraints of their everyday lives, Avedon sought to portray the human condition in its most fragile form, offering an alternative perspective on his subjects - a theme that he continued to develop throughout his career. With each intense gaze, Avedon captured them on a large-format Deardoff camera, which easily allowed for the enlargement of prints. When this series was first exhibited in Texas in 1985, six years after it was commissioned, the portraits were blow up in scale, giving way to subtle details and transforming his subjects so they appeared larger than life. Haunting, vulnerable and almost unnervingly intimate, In The American West is considered one of Avedon's greatest series of documentary portraits; his unknown subjects far removed from the romanticised, Hollywood archetypes of the West.
Text by Isabella Burley