27 September 2008

Politics & Portraits: Simon Schama on Avedon


In The Guardian today, Simon Schama has this nice essay* on Richard Avedon that sheds light on the recent flap surrounding Jill Greenberg's underhanded depiction of John McCain. I've posted on the latter here. The problem is that Greenberg was trying to trick McCain and his handlers in order to project her sense of McCain. Avedon, on Schama's account, had a much different approach regardless of his own political predilections.
"Confronted by his famously affable beam turned into a mask of porky smugness, as if fattened at the trough of self-satisfaction, Karl Rove got all steamed up, accusing Avedon of setting him up to look "stupid"; the arch-amBusher ambushed. To which, I think, Avedon would have replied - with his most rogueishly winning grin - that all his portraits were collaborations; and that nothing about the meeting of photographer and subject was calculated in advance. People came as they were.

But the truth is a little more complicated than that profession of guilelessness. Avedon did, in fact, have certain idées fixes about the essential whomever; and then, through some astonishing act of photographic magic against that white paper, could make clothes, expression, collude in imprinting the essential them."
Greenberg did not view her session with McCain as a collaboration. She viewed it as a hunting expedition that "was calculated in advance."
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* I've posted the two portraits above both because Schama explicitly mentions them both and because in the presidential debate tonight Obama invoked Kissinger as authority for his position on talking to adversaries. Both Photographs © Richard Avedon.

Also, you can find Avedon's reflections on his Kissinger portrait here at Zoe Strauss's blog.

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