The master. The man. Richard Avedon.
His life’s work is featured at the Museum of Fine Art, Boston this fall and winter and it is an absolute must-see.
Avedon Fashion: 1944-2000
August 10, 2010-January 17, 2011
Boston, MFA Huntington Ave
Avedon was featured in a previous article I wrote about the woes of the photography of the new decade (century, even?). Of course, he is the quintessential fashion photographer of our time and his work harkens to an era when the clothing and the presentation of it was the focus on fashion – not which pseudo-famous person was wearing what on a trip to the grocery store, or who can ruin a designer gown faster in a crappy ill-conceived shoot.
His work almost exclusively features women. Beautiful, often robust, strong and daring, but also gentle, laissez faire women who happen to be wearing gorgeous clothes. He brings together art and fashion in such a way that when walking through the exhibit, you not only want to be the woman in the photograph, but it seems attainable to be like her if you had those clothes. You also want to take home the pictures and imagine yourself in them. The glamor, the status, the ease with which the women seem to wear the clothing – it truly makes you feel as if you can step in her place if only you had that jacket/dress/shoes/whatever.
Known as the ‘broken ankle’ picture, Avedon also demonstrates his control of his models. There are no wires here. No photoshop. This is model Stephanie Seymour, falling, in what might be the most beautiful and fashionable fall ever on film (sorry Tyra). And while you cannot see it here, in person her image is just so barely blurred with motion, while her feet amazingly are in perfect focus. The control Avedon has over his camera and of his models, is remarkable. I mean look at this woman. She is FALLING and yet manages to look so effortless, so frail and yet there is no indication of her concern for what surely will be a bruised hip and busted wrist. It is clear that his models not only trust his work, but they trust him…
enough to work with elephants…
(the photograph is HUGE, by the way)
…and they trust him enough to leap in the air, blind.
Tell me you don’t want to own his dress after seeing this photograph. Tell me you don’t want magical ballet shoes like hers to help take you away to whatever effortless land she is floating away to.
Walking through the exhibition is similar to a classic gallery, with white walls and bright lights. But there is a special room dedicated to works that demonstrate a different kind of mastery: the focal point.
In a room of black walls, the MFA brilliantly displays work of Avedon’s that focuses on women in group situations where his subject is masterfully taking center stage despite the active and distracting background. Helped with strategic spotlights (both behind the model in the photograph to create a halo, but also at the museum that points a small spotlight on the women in the image), Avedon’s women pop out from a scene so fantastical you can’t help but want to take her place.
Here, our subject is glamorous as ever, briskly walking through what appears to be a nude-girls Vegas show. You almost don’t even notice the nude performer climbing a ladder behind her…but her date clearly does.
Here, an ingenue plays pinball with such concentration, in a poofy cocktail dress no less, she has no notice of the men leering over her shoulder. Note the composition as well. Her fluffy dress creates a beautiful, glowing curve that mimics the movement of the staircase behind her, and the vaulted ceiling of the bar.
And, say it with me: negative space! The empty space above the players makes for a more dramatic moment at the pinball machine – forcing you to focus on the machine as intently as our ingenue does.
Perhaps she’s playing KISS pinball? One can only hope.
This is an exhibition for everyone. For those who love photography before photoshop and illustrator raped the process. It is for those who yearn for a time of classic and clean fashion. And it is for those who nerd out on art, like me. Can I say that I gasped when this stunning representation of Unique Forms of Continuity in Space appeared from around a wall? While so many things run through my head, the main point is “how on earth did he do this?!” because it is just. so. perfect. The wind, the fabric and the models control come together in art-reference perfection.
In the end, the exhibition is stellar. Works that I had only previously seen in catalogs and books were right in front of me and it was almost too good to be true. In fact, Susie, my trusted sidekick on this trip, stood looking through the Avedon collection book at the entrance of the exhibit for ten minutes before entering – as if we still wouldn’t see it all (and we were pleasantly surprised that many of his fashion masterpieces were present). It was so refreshing to see his command of his subjects and his camera, getting to know his personal taste in shots (he loves the ‘column’ where the woman is 3/4 turned to the camera with ankles together, one foot pointed towards the camera), and ultimately seeing his love of women and fashion come through the lens.
Fashion is easy to sexualize, and yet it seems so hard to make it titillating and exciting. In an age of free porn and ‘Girls with Low Self Esteem’ videos, it is amazing that Avendon can make a torso so…sexy:
Don’t let my reflection distract you!
not that I think that would happen
I highly recommend this exhibit. It doesn’t matter if you only go to the museum for this one show or you plan to stay all day – do not miss this show. It is one of the finest and exciting at the MFA this year (and perhaps in recent years) and certainly one that we often don’t get up in Boston, as so much fashion is relegated to New York.