30 August 2009

Can You Say 'Derivative'?

I seem to have missed the portraits when they appeared in The New York Times Magazine. But now The Guardian folks are circulating part of Nadav Kander's collection "Obama's People." There is a slide show here. In the accompanying story we learn that "Kander . . . acknowledges the influence of Richard Avedon's The Family, a ground-breaking series of portraits of the US political elite on the 1976 campaign trail, published in Rolling Stone magazine." Well, how nice. We need someone to tell us that? The fact is that the entire enterprise is simply a rehash of the Avedon series. I don't find anything original or innovative in it at all. I suppose that is appropriate because there is not much going on in the Obama administration that is innovative or original either.

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Blogger Stan B. said...

Although the series may not be completely "original," there are still some very powerful portraits to be found in the series, particularly in these days of lame, deadpan portraiture- and administrations.

30 August, 2009 10:53  
Blogger jc said...

I think what separates Kander's photos from Avedon's is the sense of hope and excitement of a very young (mostly) new administration, full of idealism, and photographed after the election yet before Obama had taken office. I love Avedon's series, absolutely, but to me, everyone in the Family looks jaded and evil, completely covered with a mask for the media, since they know its power so well. Kander's photos, at least some of them, come off as sincere but perhaps a bit naive. That's a huge difference. To me, that makes the comparison and contrast worthwhile. You can hear Kander talking about the project at http://www.lensculture.com/kander.html

30 August, 2009 16:38  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

jc - The problem is that the reality of the Obama administration is so distant from the 'hope' and 'change' he exploited in the campaign. And When I see portraits of Biden and Daschle and Geithner and Emanuel it becomes clear that that was the truth of the matter from the start. I suspected so all along. But the portraits, from my perspective, simply reaffirm the complacent comfort with power that you rightly see in Avedon's series.

Stan - Sure some of the portraits are good - and telling - but does that mean that this series deserves to be placed and re-placed in premier venues? Seems like a looonnnnnggggggg stretch to me! (PS: I hope you've had a great summer.)

30 August, 2009 21:02  
Blogger Stan B. said...

Jim- power celebs get power venues, repeatedly. And thanks for reminding me its summer- one needs reminding in the San Francisco fog...

30 August, 2009 21:22  
Blogger jc said...

Hi Jim--

My comments were focusing on what I perceive as the visual differences, and perhaps the differences of intention, between the two series. Political reality is a different topic all together. I think if Kander were to photograph the same Obama's People just one year later, most of the younger ones, especially, would appear much less upbeat and casual and happy-- they will have all have their "media masks" on, and look hardened by what they will have experienced.

And Stan--

I agree that celebrity, whether earned or not, gets a lot of attention. But these photos have some historical and sociological value, too, which I find to be more fascinating. I did see the Obama exhibition in Birmingham, UK, as well as Avedon's earlier in Paris. They both have "celebrities" in them, but I appreciated both exhibitions for different reasons, as well.

31 August, 2009 06:03  

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