A Photographer's Circus
I’ve loved Richard Avedon’s photos almost as long as I can remember. (That love helped launch me on a short-lived career in commercial photography, for which I’m not sure if I thank him or blame him.) A show of Avedon’s group-portrait murals, at Gagosian in New York, reminds me of his magic. There’s always such a strong sense of a story behind the subjects he shows that his photos become almost animate. The story that most captures me, however, is the story of how each photo has come to be. Though they convey amazing spontaneity and decisive-monent-ish charm, it’s clear that these images are deeply artificial constructions. Each shoot must have been an insane photographic circus, with Avedon as the ruthless (and charming) ringleader. In this 1970 image, of Allen Ginsberg’s extended family of culturati, you can just imagine the emotional work it took to pull character out of each sitter, and to keep the whole crowd in line. And I think that, subliminally at least, the hidden story of the shoot is what helps sell us on the visible story of its subject.