What Becomes a Legend Most: The Biography of Richard Avedon

Philip Gefter. Harper, $35 (656p) ISBN 978-0-06-244271-0
Photography critic Gefter dives deep into the life of Richard Avedon (1923–2004) in a dense biography that illuminates the famed fashion photographer’s life and influence from the mid-1940s up until his death. Known for his signature “formality of a straight-on figure,” Avedon’s sharp black and white portraits showed the public never-before-seen sides of stars like Marilyn Monroe and set the tone for international fashion magazines including Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. Chapters on Avedon’s scrappy Manhattan upbringing reveal fascinating connections to other artists such as Truman Capote and James Baldwin, though the narrative gets off to a bit of a slow start; discussions of his photography don’t arrive until almost 80 pages in. Avedon’s early commercial campaigns are recounted in detail, and Gefter discusses how Avedon’s artistic style meshed with his advertising work, for example, by shooting famous models for exclusive brand campaigns. (An early coup of his was to arrange an exclusive contract for Lauren Hutton with Revlon in 1973 for a then unheard-of fee of $200,000.) Stories behind famous shots of the Beatles and Andy Warhol reveal just as much about the subjects as Avedon himself (“Andy Warhol, too, was interested in the surface”). Gefter does a remarkable job of situating Avedon within the broader art scene, though the level of detail he goes into may overwhelm readers with a more casual interest in the subject. Nonetheless, this work serves as a definitive and insightful look into one of the titans of 20th century photography. (Oct.)
Reviewed on : 09/16/2020
Release date: 10/01/2020
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 656 pages - 978-0-06-244275-8
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