In The American West
by Richard Avedon
Harry N Abrams
When I was young, cocky and fearless, I wrote a book review about Richard Avedon’s Autobiography arrogantly titled “Sorry, but I am not at all impressed” and naturally, that piece invites both ridicule as well as applause. More hate mails to be exact.
A lot of Avedon fans have demanded to know how dare a young nobody question the master’s position in the photography world. Many more took it personally and dug out my own photography, saying that unless I was better(how can I ever be better than Avedon?), I should not have made such lofty proclamations.
To this day, I keep the article online for several purposes. One of course is to assure myself that it is always okay to have an opinion. Also, I want it to be a reminder that I should never be upset should someone disses my work the way I ‘disrespected’ Avedon.
Most readers assumed that I hate him, they can’t be more wrong.
I have many Avedon monographs, among them In The American West, a book I consider a must-have in any photography book collection.
Admittedly, there was a long period when I couldn’t fathom why should I be so in awe of an approach that is so simple? What is so difficult about getting a bunch of forlorn individuals to prance in front of a camera? Surely he must be a lousy photographer if he needed to simplify his background to the bare minimum?
In the foreword to this handsome book, Avedon explains, “A portrait photographer depends upon another person to complete his picture. The subject imagined, which in a sense is me, must be discovered in someone else willing to take part in a fiction he can’t possibly know about. My concerns are not his. We have separate ambitions for the image. His need to plead his case probably goes as deep as my need to plead mine, but the control is with me.” Fair enough.
You can read that in different ways. My own interpretation is that every encounter for him was a duel. The individual will try to portray himself in a certain way he wants to be recorded but the photographer will always have his own opinion.
In Avedon’s mind, there was probably nothing unfair about this exchange. Did he care if a subject was accurately depicted?
But then again, what is accurate?
Most people will think that Avedon was the typical egomaniac who only cared about his own vision while we the bigger fools think we can even dream about being accurate.
Now you tell me who’s right.