Dawoud Bey reflects on "In the American West"
If you ever get a chance to see the large prints from Avedon's American West series by all means go. They are stunning. I had a chance to see them at MOMA years ago (along with some Bernd and Hilla Becher work) and it re energized my photography.
I thoroughly enjoyed this essay. Avedon is incomparable and timeless.
Dawould is the rare individual who can eloquently paint in both words and photographs.
Thank you for highlighting his remarkable work.
Excellent text, simple, it offers a glimpse to Avedon’s technique while explaining his own passage from handheld camera for the street to full frame on tripod.
This format with short text and 2-3 pictures is great.
My most prized possession is a first print, first edition, signed edition of the American West book that I got through a lot of luck at a thriftstore, a constant inspiration.
In the 1980's there was the American West show at the ICA in Boston. At the same time at the iconic department store, Filene's there were banners hung with this work. Management asked the salespeople to dress up in western ware that was simultaneously being sold. I wish I could remember more about this, it was a long time ago.
Indeed, the show at the ICA was stunning. My
uncomfortableness came from the subjects
looking like they were pinned butterflies, no context...just collected.
At the fancy opening I remember thinking if any of the subjects showed up they would be barred
Also of interest, Avedon sent his assistants out to find the "appropriate" people to photograph.
It might be of interest to look at Katy Grannan''s
Sandra Stark, Emerita, School of the Museum of Fine Arts/Tufts.
A lovely essay. My high school photography teacher would introduce us to a new photographer every Monday, and I still giggle remembering him standing in front of the empty white projector screen, staring at us all blankly and saying "Look! I'm a Richard Avedon portrait!"
Avedon has been my favorite portrait artist and photographer in general since I first started photographing and continues to be a huge inspiration. Whenever I am feeling lost in my work, I return to his images and any writing on In the American West. Timeless icon. I had never seen work Dawoud Bey's and it is truly beautiful. Thank you for sharing another incredible photographer.
Iconic! Influenced me and my work in a great deal when i was a student. For aure he is still highlighted there.
Great essay by Dawould Bey. Thanks for sharing it.
My first photography professor at UC Berkeley ca. 1968 was a retired New York fashion photographer named Rouben Samberg. A student in our class mentioned Avedon, and Samberg relplied “Ah, yes, Little Dickie we used to call him…”
I looked for the book but it’s OOP and really expensive. Are they collected in another monograph or is that all that’s out there?
Thanks for the post, I’ve heard the name but never paused to look.
I saw the original show at the Amon-Carter in 1985. These were the first very large photographs I had seen in an art context. They were revelatory. Because so much of my earlier work had been in 19th century ethnographic collections I was aware of the political dynamics of portraiture, and as an urban East Coast person rather bewildered by the American West I found myself in, the photographer's participant-observer role resonated with me.
Saw the In The American West show at the Corcoran circa 1985? It hit me like a lightning bolt. Stayed with me ever since. Every photographer should get the chance to see these big prints. If you can't, buy the book!
“how to direct them towards a performance of themselves was something that Avedon's pictures had given me a roadmap for” Just a beautiful recounting of beautiful, subtle, and extraordinary work.
Wonderful words from Dawoud, who is indeed a wonderful photographer himself. I find Avedon disconcerting. There are elements I do find somewhat potentially exploitative, but as Dawoud said, he was a master at drawing a psychological nuance or gesture from someone. His relationship and work with James Baldwin is also highly worth a look. It's this tension between his advertising and celebrity work with The American West and Nothing Personal I find challenging, deep, dimensional. And I suppose that's what I keep coming back to when I see Avedon's work.
This is what I love about Substack. I’m aware of Richard Avedon but never really explored his work. Thank you for reminding me to delve further.