I remember a while ago, I was writing a post about my favourite classic portraits, and I wanted to include Richard Avedon’s portraiture of his father - which I couldn’t find online. I suppose the obvious did not occur to me, namely to look on the Richard Avedon website (in my defense, it appears as if the website has been expanded quite a bit since my prior visits). So it took Miguel’s post to remind me of that work, and to tell me where to look.
I am a fan of Avedon’s work, even though I often find it too gimmicky - and watching him explain how he took portraits in a documentary reinforced my view. Needless to say, with magazines paying for many of the portraits it’s not hard to see why he wanted something that would catch the eye with more than, well, “just” the portrait. After all, magazine readers - so I am being told - are a fickle bunch, and you only have a second or so to make them look at something. Be that as it may (or not), Avedon’s portraits of his own father have always struck me as his strongest work, by a very, very wide margin. I think one can tell that for once, Avedon shied away from trying to add a gimmick - for which there could be a wide variety of good reasons - and presented the old man the way he saw him. Maybe it’s that very inhibition to unleash the portrait pro that makes these photos so powerful and moving.